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Transform Fault: Definition & Characteristics

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  • 0:00 Transform Fault…
  • 0:45 Oceanic Transform Faults
  • 1:51 Faults on the Edge of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
Transform faults are largely hidden from us under the oceans, but those that occur on continents really shake things up. These moving plate boundaries produce our most powerful earthquakes.

Transform Fault Characteristics

When we say that transform faults are conservative plate boundaries, we don't mean that they vote republican or believe in lower tax rates. A conservative boundary occurs when two tectonic plates come together, but neither create nor destroy the earth's crust by pulling apart or smashing together. They simply move past each other. This is what happens at transform faults, which we find at the edges between tectonic plates. Transform faults are a specialized type of strike-slip fault, which occurs when the earth on either side of the fault moves side to side, or 'horizontally.' On either side of a transform fault are other faults.

Oceanic Transform Faults

Most examples of transform faults occur at mid-ocean ridges at the bottoms of the world's oceans. To understand what these transform faults look like and how they move, we need to know more about these ridges. A mid-ocean ridge is exactly what it sounds like: a ridge of mountains in the middle of the ocean. An example is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs all the way down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Most transform faults are found along the mid-ocean ridges.
mid-ocean ridges

The ridge forms because two plates are pulling apart from each other. As this happens, magma from below the crust wells up, hardens, and forms new oceanic crust. This is the ridge. The plate boundary isn't a perfectly straight line. It zig-zags its way down the ocean floor. In between segments of the plates pulling away from each other are transform faults moving past each other. These faults can vary in length, but they always have a segment of the mid-ocean ridge fault at either end. Where the transform faults move past each other, no new crust is formed. The new crust is only created at the boundary where the plates pull apart.

The red lines show the transform faults between areas of diverging, or spreading, crust.
transform fault

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