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

The rift is probably a sign of things to come as the plate tectonics under Africa rearrange themselves. Laura Geggel, Washington Post, "A huge crack provides evidence that Africa is slowly splitting into two," 7 Apr. 2018 BepiColombo will image the planet at a higher resolution and attempt to improve the scientific understanding of how a planet without plate tectonics cools. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Two orbiters begin their long journey to Mercury Friday night," 19 Oct. 2018 The science of plate tectonics, proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912, didn’t become widely accepted until the 1970s. Angela V. Olinto, WSJ, "NASA’s New Probe Sails Into the Solar Wind," 9 Aug. 2018 But up until the point plate tectonics became widely accepted, the Expanding Earth theory was a popular explanation for the processes that shaped the Earth. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "We’ve Been Wrong Before: The Expanding Earth Theory," 3 Aug. 2018 John Tuzo Wilson developed plate tectonics between 1962 and 1968 and thus explained continental drift and the constant reshaping of the earth’s surface. David Wootton, WSJ, "‘Origin Story’ Review: The View From Above," 18 May 2018 Without plate tectonics turning over its crust, Mars’s interior has probably remained largely the same since its formation, Dr. Smrekar says. Eva Botkin-kowacki, The Christian Science Monitor, "How NASA's latest mission to Mars might dig up truths about Earth," 7 May 2018 Mars doesn't have plate tectonics like Earth, so its seismicity is expected to be much more like the Moon's: relatively small shudders and creaks caused by the planet's very slow cooling and shrinking. Emily Lakdawalla, Popular Mechanics, "Meet InSight: The Mission To Measure Marsquakes and Unlock the Red Planet," 30 Apr. 2018 The planet’s quick cooling had the effect of stunting development of plate tectonics, which are responsible for most of the tremors on Earth. Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, "California launch: NASA to send spacecraft to study ‘marsquakes’," 18 Apr. 2018

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

Share plate tectonics

Statistics for plate tectonics

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


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 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).


to reflect, repel, echo, or resound

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt-painting-a-young-scholar-and-his-tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Syn City

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


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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