Definition of plate tectonics

1 : a theory in geology: the lithosphere of the earth is divided into a small number of plates which float on and travel independently over the mantle and much of the earth's seismic activity occurs at the boundaries of these plates
2 : the process and dynamics of tectonic plate movement also : a similar process on a body other than earth — compare continental drift

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from plate tectonics

plate-tectonic adjective

Examples of plate tectonics in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Whereas craters on Earth suffer plate tectonics and weather, lunar scars just sit there, inert, like the boot print of an astronaut. Quanta Magazine, "Asteroid Rate Jumped in Solar System’s Past," 17 Jan. 2019 Lacking wind, rivers or plate tectonics, the surface of the moon has likely not changed much since its origin, offering physical evidence to what Earth may have been like during its infancy. Chuck Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "Onward To Mars: What Our Journey To the Red Planet Might Look Like," 24 July 2019 On the Earth’s surface, craters caused by space debris and other indications of what was going on early in our planet’s history have largely been erased by plate tectonics, volcanism, and erosion. Eva Botkin-kowacki, The Christian Science Monitor, "Apollo 11 at 50: How the moon landing changed the world," 16 July 2019 But there’s more to plate tectonics than earthquakes and eruptions. Quanta Magazine, "Why Earth’s Cracked Crust May Be Essential for Life," 7 June 2018 The two largest planets in the solar system, Saturn and Jupiter, have icy moons, including Europa, which has plate tectonics and could be a potential home for life. Fox News, "NASA is building robots that can climb Mars, including an 'ice worm'," 11 July 2019 Most rocks on Earth are much younger than four billion years because of the constant recycling of the crust by plate tectonics—a process that does not occur on the moon. Erica Jawin, Scientific American, "Apollo’s Bounty: The Science of the Moon Rocks," 2 July 2019 The surface conditions, like temperature and weather, are maintained by relying on the movement of the continents, for example by plate tectonics. Natalie Hinkel, The Conversation, "Accelerating exoplanet discovery using chemical fingerprints of stars," 25 June 2019 As the World Turns The theory of plate tectonics took shape in the 1960s after more precise seafloor maps and seismic activity monitoring revealed signs of our planet’s shifting shell. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, "Plate Tectonics: The Slow Dance of Our Planet's Crust," 12 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'plate tectonics.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of plate tectonics

1969, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about plate tectonics

Statistics for plate tectonics

Last Updated

30 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for plate tectonics

The first known use of plate tectonics was in 1969

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for plate tectonics

plate tectonics

noun

English Language Learners Definition of plate tectonics

geology : a scientific theory that the Earth's surface is made of very large sections that move very slowly also : the movements of the large sections that form the Earth's surface

More from Merriam-Webster on plate tectonics

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about plate tectonics

Comments on plate tectonics

What made you want to look up plate tectonics? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a topic to which one constantly reverts

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!