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How The Earth is Shaped: Earthquakes, Faults & Tsunamis

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  • 0:01 Not a Smooth Globe
  • 0:44 Plate Tectonics
  • 1:41 Fault Lines
  • 2:39 Earthquakes
  • 3:37 Tsunamis
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

If you thought that the best way to describe the Earth's surface was round, think again! As this lesson shows, the world is much more like a soccer ball than you might imagine.

Not a Smooth Globe

If you were to look at a globe, you'd see that it is relatively smooth. Sure, maybe your globe has some indentations from mountains, but it is nothing like what you see outside. Truth be told, a globe really doesn't reflect what the Earth is like in real life. The globe on your desk may be smooth with only a few ridges for mountains. But the truth is that the world looks very different.

While your globe may only have one obvious connecting point between the two hemispheres, our Earth is actually made up of many plates, or chunks of land and sea bed that move around. In fact, it would be more apt to compare our planet to a soccer ball than to a globe in many respects.

Plate Tectonics

The science that explains how these plates move around is called plate tectonics. Because we have no way of stripping the Earth down to the plates to prove that they actually exist, it is still a theory. However, we are about as sure about the theory of plate tectonics as we are about the theory of gravity.

In short, the theory tells us that these plates are always moving and changing. And plates have a number of options available to them when they do meet. For example, plates can slide under one another. This often leads to deep trenches. Or when two plates collide and press up against each other, giant mountain ranges can form.

The world's tallest mountains, the Himalayas, were formed when the Indian plate and the Asian plate met. For the most part, each continent is its own plate, but there are some exceptions.

Fault Lines

For example, two plates meet in the middle of California. Points where two or more lines meet are called fault lines. Like I said earlier, sometimes these plates go down or go up, creating trenches or mountains. But sometimes, they just rub against each other.

While it sounds like this could be relatively peaceful compared to going above or below another plate, the truth is that this is a pretty violent occurrence. Try hooking your thumbs and pulling them apart while resisting as hard as you can. Your thumbs will give way and bend to some extent, but ultimately it is like a spring being released. Your hands will fly in other directions. There is a lot of energy being released when you do that, and it causes your hands to fly.

Now imagine, two massive plates doing that. When they finally release, there is a huge about of energy that has to go somewhere. Two of the most common releases for that energy are earthquakes and tsunamis.

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