Earth Moves Under Our Feet

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Learning Objects (10)

Direct Access Links:

Continental Drift (National Geographic)
What is Plate Tectonics? (LiveScience)
How GPS Changed the Way We Think About Our Planet (Popular Mechanics)
Plate Tectonics and the Hawaiian “Hot Spot” (U.S. Geological Survey)
What is Tectonic Shift? (NOAA)
What is Geodesy? (NOAA)
National Geodetic Survey (NOAA)
NOAA Manages the National Spatial Reference System (NOAA)
Geodesy Lessons (NOAA)
I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet (YouTube-Carole King)


To understand how GPS revolutionized Earth science in just 30 years, you need to know the low-tech ways scientists used to study the Earth for centuries. For centuries, scientists hypothesized that the continents were moving. The theory of continental drift was followed by the discovery that it was actually large portions of the Earth’s crust, or plates, that had broken apart to form land masses rather than individual continents. This is the theory of plate tectonics. But this formulated theory was only the beginning,  scientists then proceeded to find a way to accurately measure the entire planet.


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Continental Drift

Continental drift describes one of the earliest ways geologists thought continents moved over time. Today, the theory of continental drift has been replaced by the science of plate tectonics.


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What is Plate Tectonics?

From the deepest ocean trench to the tallest mountain, plate tectonics explains the features and movement of Earth’s surface in the present and the past…Plate tectonics is the theory that Earth’s outer shell is divided into several plates that glide over the mantle, the rocky inner layer above the core. The plates act like a hard and rigid shell compared to Earth’s mantle. There are nine major plates, according to World Atlas. These plates are named after the landforms found on them. The nine major plates are North American, Pacific, Eurasian, African, Indo-Australian, Australian, Indian, South American and Antarctic.


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How GPS Changed the Way We Think About Our Planet

Although it tracks where we walk, GPS’s Greatest benefit could be what it sees under our feet. Iceland is breaking apart. While the country’s 333,000 people, millions of puffins,and influx of tourists live in harmony, the rock underneath them is slowly separating.


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U.S. Geological Survey

Plate Tectonics and the Hawaiian “Hot Spot”

In the early 1960s, the related concepts of “seafloor spreading” and “plate tectonics” emerged as powerful new hypotheses that geologists used to interpret the features and movements of the Earth’s surface layer. Nearly all of the world’s earthquakes and active volcanoes occur along or near the boundaries of the Earth’s shifting plates. Why then are the Hawai – ian volcanoes located in the middle of the Pacific Plate, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest boundary with any other tectonic plate? Explore the “hot spot” theory.

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What is Tectonic Shift?

The Earth is in a constant state of change. Earth’s crust, called the lithosphere, consists of 15 to 20 moving tectonic plates. The plates can be thought of like pieces of a cracked shell that rest on the hot, molten rock of Earth’s mantle and fit snugly against one another. The heat from radioactive processes within the planet’s interior causes the plates to move, sometimes toward and sometimes away from each other. This movement is called plate motion, or tectonic shift.

What is Geodesy?

Geodesy is the science of accurately measuring and understanding the Earth’s geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravity field. To define the shape of the Earth, NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey, part of the National Ocean Service, uses a variety of techniques to measure the planet’s rate of rotation, its plate motion, and the ways that gravity affects certain scientific processes.

National Geodetic Survey

NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS) provides the framework for all positioning activities in the Nation. The foundational elements of latitude, longitude, elevation, and shoreline information impact a wide range of important activities.

NOAA Manages the National Spatial Reference System

NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS) defines, maintains, and provides access to the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS)— a consistent coordinate system that defines latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity, orientation, and shoreline throughout the United States and is designed to meet our nation’s economic, social, and environmental needs.

Geodesy Lessons 

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) includes this online resource in its SciLinks database. SciLinks provide students and teachers access to Web-based, educationally appropriate science content that has been formally evaluated by master teachers. Explore the Geoid, the history of geodesy, the vertical and horizontal datum, the Global Positioning System (GPS) and more.


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I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

Just for fun — Check out this YouTube link for singer and songwriter Carole King’s song “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet.” She probably wasn’t thinking of plate tectonics when she wrote and sang this song but maybe you can modify her words based on what you learn here!


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Ontology Tags STEM Research & Applications: (1) Computers Today & Tomorrow – Uncovering the Past (2) Engineering Our World – STEM All Around Us

Search Terms  Challenging Problems: (1) Questions – Reveal the World (2) Physical World – Investigating Earth (3) Humans in the World – Habitation & Population | Intended Learning Outcomes: Critical Thinking – (1) Model with Math (2) Quantify | Success Skills & Depth of Knowledge: (1) Cognitive Demand – (a) Applying (b) Analyzing (c) Evaluating (2) Learning Styles & Intelligences – (a) Logical or Mathematical  (b) Visual or Spatial | CTEs & Disciplines: (1) STEM Research & Applications (2) Geosystems Engineering (3) World History (4) Earth & Geo Sciences (5) Physical Geography