North American Plate

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North American Plate
Type Major
Approximate area75,900,000 km2 (29,300,000 sq mi) [1]
Speed115–25 mm (0.59–0.98 in)/year
Features North America, Greenland, Bering Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean
1Relative to the African Plate

The North American Plate is a tectonic plate covering most of North America, Greenland, Cuba, the Bahamas, extreme northeastern Asia, and parts of Iceland and the Azores. It extends eastward to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and westward to the Chersky Range in eastern Siberia. The plate includes both continental and oceanic crust. The interior of the main continental landmass includes an extensive granitic core called a craton. Along most of the edges of this craton are fragments of crustal material called terranes, accreted to the craton by tectonic actions over a long span of time. It is thought that much of North America west of the Rocky Mountains is composed of such terranes.

Plate tectonics The scientific theory that describes the large-scale motions of Earths lithosphere

Plate tectonics is a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of the Earth's lithosphere, since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The model builds on the concept of continental drift, an idea developed during the first decades of the 20th century. The geoscientific community accepted plate-tectonic theory after seafloor spreading was validated in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Greenland Autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark

Greenland is an autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for more than a millennium. The majority of its residents are Inuit, whose ancestors began migrating from the Canadian mainland in the 13th century, gradually settling across the island.



The southerly boundary with the Cocos Plate to the west and the Caribbean Plate to the east is a transform fault, represented by the Swan Islands Transform Fault under the Caribbean Sea and the Motagua Fault through Guatemala. The parallel Septentrional and Enriquillo–Plantain Garden faults, which run through the island of Hispaniola and bound the Gonâve Microplate, are also a part of the boundary. The rest of the southerly margin which extends east to the Mid Atlantic Ridge and marks the boundary between the North American Plate and the South American Plate is vague but located near the Fifteen-Twenty Fracture Zone around 16°N.

Cocos Plate A young oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America

The Cocos Plate is a young oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America, named for Cocos Island, which rides upon it. The Cocos Plate was created approximately 23 million years ago when the Farallon Plate broke into two pieces, which also created the Nazca Plate. The Cocos Plate also broke into two pieces, creating the small Rivera Plate. The Cocos Plate is bounded by several different plates. To the northeast it is bounded by the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. To the west it is bounded by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Nazca Plate.

Caribbean Plate A mostly oceanic tectonic plate including part of Central America and the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America.

Transform fault A plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal

A transform fault or transform boundary is a plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal. It ends abruptly and is connected to another transform, a spreading ridge, or a subduction zone.

On the northerly boundary is a continuation of the Mid-Atlantic ridge called the Gakkel Ridge. The rest of the boundary in the far northwestern part of the plate extends into Siberia. This boundary continues from the end of the Gakkel Ridge as the Laptev Sea Rift, on to a transitional deformation zone in the Chersky Range, then the Ulakhan Fault between it and the Okhotsk Plate, and finally the Aleutian Trench to the end of the Queen Charlotte Fault system.

Gakkel Ridge A mid-oceanic ridge under the Arctic Ocean between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate

The Gakkel Ridge is a mid-oceanic ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It is located in the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean, between Greenland and Siberia, and has a length of about 1,800 kilometers. Geologically, it connects the northern end of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with the Laptev Sea Rift.

Siberia Geographical region in Russia

Siberia is an extensive geographical region spanning much of Eurasia and North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of modern Russia since the 17th century.

The Laptev Sea Rift is a divergent tectonic plate boundary between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate located on the Arctic Ocean coast of northeastern Siberia in Russia. The Laptev Sea Rift is the continuation of the Gakkel Ridge into the continental crust of Siberia. It starts offshore in the continental shelf and continues onshore to a point located in the Chersky Range where the boundary motion changes from extension to compression.

The westerly boundary is the Queen Charlotte Fault running offshore along the coast of Alaska and the Cascadia subduction zone to the north, the San Andreas Fault through California, the East Pacific Rise in the Gulf of California, and the Middle America Trench to the south.

Queen Charlotte Fault

The Queen Charlotte Fault is an active transform fault that marks the boundary of the North American and the Pacific Plates. It is Canada's right-lateral strike-slip equivalent to the San Andreas Fault to the south in California. The Queen Charlotte Fault forms a triple junction on its south with the Cascadia subduction zone and the Explorer Ridge.

Cascadia subduction zone Convergent plate boundary that stretches from northern Vancouver Island to Northern California

The Cascadia subduction zone is a convergent plate boundary that stretches from northern Vancouver Island in Canada to Northern California in the United States. It is a very long, sloping subduction zone where the Explorer, Juan de Fuca, and Gorda plates move to the east and slide below the much larger mostly continental North American Plate. The zone varies in width and lies offshore beginning near Cape Mendocino Northern California, passing through Oregon and Washington, and terminating at about Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

San Andreas Fault A continental transform fault through California between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate

The San Andreas Fault is a continental transform fault that extends roughly 1,200 kilometers (750 mi) through California. It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, and its motion is right-lateral strike-slip (horizontal). The fault divides into three segments, each with different characteristics and a different degree of earthquake risk. The slip rate along the fault ranges from 20 to 35 mm /yr.

On its western edge, the Farallon Plate has been subducting under the North American Plate since the Jurassic Period. The Farallon Plate has almost completely subducted beneath the western portion of the North American Plate leaving that part of the North American Plate in contact with the Pacific Plate as the San Andreas Fault. The Juan de Fuca, Explorer, Gorda, Rivera, Cocos and Nazca plates are remnants of the Farallon Plate.

Farallon Plate An ancient oceanic plate that has mostly subducted under the west coast of the North American Plate

The Farallon Plate was an ancient oceanic plate that began subducting under the west coast of the North American Plate—then located in modern Utah—as Pangaea broke apart during the Jurassic period. It is named for the Farallon Islands, which are located just west of San Francisco, California.

Subduction A geological process at convergent tectonic plate boundaries where one plate moves under the other

Subduction is a geological process that takes place at convergent boundaries of tectonic plates where one plate moves under another and is forced to sink due to gravity into the mantle. Regions where this process occurs are known as subduction zones. Rates of subduction are typically in centimeters per year, with the average rate of convergence being approximately two to eight centimeters per year along most plate boundaries.

The Jurassic period was a geologic period and system that spanned 56 million years from the end of the Triassic Period 201.3 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the Cretaceous Period 145 Mya. The Jurassic constitutes the middle period of the Mesozoic Era, also known as the Age of Reptiles. The start of the period was marked by the major Triassic–Jurassic extinction event. Two other extinction events occurred during the period: the Pliensbachian-Toarcian extinction in the Early Jurassic, and the Tithonian event at the end; however, neither event ranks among the "Big Five" mass extinctions.

The boundary along the Gulf of California is complex. The Gulf is underlain by the Gulf of California Rift Zone, a series of rift basins and transform fault segments between the northern end of the East Pacific Rise in the mouth of the gulf to the San Andreas Fault system in the vicinity of the Salton Trough rift/Brawley seismic zone. [2] [3]

Gulf of California A gulf of the Pacific Ocean between the Baja peninsula and the Mexican mainland

The Gulf of California is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. It is bordered by the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa with a coastline of approximately 4,000 km (2,500 mi). Rivers which flow into the Gulf of California include the Colorado, Fuerte, Mayo, Sinaloa, Sonora, and the Yaqui. The gulf's surface area is about 160,000 km2 (62,000 sq mi). Depths range from fording at the estuary near Yuma, Arizona, to in excess of 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) in the deepest parts.

The Gulf of California Rift Zone (GCRZ) is the northernmost extension of the East Pacific Rise which extends some 1,300 km (800 mi) from the mouth of the Gulf of California to the southern terminus of the San Andreas Fault at the Salton Sink.

East Pacific Rise A mid-oceanic ridge at a divergent tectonic plate boundary on the floor of the Pacific Ocean

The East Pacific Rise is a mid-oceanic ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary located along the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It separates the Pacific Plate to the west from the North American Plate, the Rivera Plate, the Cocos Plate, the Nazca Plate, and the Antarctic Plate. It runs south from the Gulf of California in the Salton Sea basin in southern California to a point near 55° S, 130° W where it joins the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge trending west-southwest towards Antarctica near New Zealand. Much of the rise lies about 3200 km (2000 mi) off the South American coast and rises about 1,800–2,700 m (6,000–9,000 ft) above the surrounding seafloor.

It is generally accepted that a piece of the North American Plate was broken off and transported north as the East Pacific Rise propagated northward, creating the Gulf of California. However, it is as yet unclear whether the oceanic crust east of the Rise and west of the mainland coast of Mexico is actually a new plate beginning to converge with the North American Plate, consistent with the standard model of rift zone spreading centers generally.[ citation needed ]


A few hotspots are thought to exist below the North American Plate. The most notable hotspots are the Yellowstone (Wyoming), Jemez Lineament (New Mexico), and Anahim (British Columbia) hotspots. These are thought to be caused by a narrow stream of hot mantle convecting up from the Earth's core–mantle boundary called a mantle plume, [4] although some geologists think that upper-mantle convection is a more likely cause. [5] [6] The Yellowstone and Anahim hotspots are thought to have first arrived during the Miocene period and are still geologically active, creating earthquakes and volcanoes. The Yellowstone hotspot is most notable for the Yellowstone Caldera and the many calderas that lie in the Snake River Plain while the Anahim hotspot is most notable for the Anahim Volcanic Belt, currently found in the Nazko Cone area.

Plate motion

For the most part, the North American Plate moves in roughly a southwest direction away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The motion of the plate cannot be driven by subduction as no part of the North American Plate is being subducted, except for a small section comprising part of the Puerto Rico Trench; thus other mechanisms continue to be investigated.

One recent study suggests that a mantle convective current is propelling the plate. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

In geology, the slab gap hypothesis is one of the explanations put forward to explain several instances of crustal extension that occur inland near former subduction zones.

Divergent boundary Linear feature that exists between two tectonic plates that are moving away from each other

In plate tectonics, a divergent boundary or divergent plate boundary is a linear feature that exists between two tectonic plates that are moving away from each other. Divergent boundaries within continents initially produce rifts which eventually become rift valleys. Most active divergent plate boundaries occur between oceanic plates and exist as mid-oceanic ridges. Divergent boundaries also form volcanic islands which occur when the plates move apart to produce gaps which molten lava rises to fill.

African Plate Tectonic plate underlying Africa west of the East African Rift

The African Plate is a major tectonic plate straddling the equator as well as the prime meridian. It includes much of the continent of Africa, as well as oceanic crust which lies between the continent and various surrounding ocean ridges. Between 60 million years ago and 10 million years ago, the Somali Plate began rifting from the African Plate along the East African Rift. Since the continent of Africa consists of crust from both the African and the Somali plates, some literature refers to the African Plate as the Nubian Plate to distinguish it from the continent as a whole.

Triple junction The point where the boundaries of three tectonic plates meet

A triple junction is the point where the boundaries of three tectonic plates meet. At the triple junction each of the three boundaries will be one of 3 types - a ridge (R), trench (T) or transform fault (F) - and triple junctions can be described according to the types of plate margin that meet at them. Of the many possible types of triple junction only a few are stable through time. The meeting of 4 or more plates is also theoretically possible but junctions will only exist instantaneously.

Mid-ocean ridge An underwater mountain system formed by plate tectonic spreading

A mid-ocean ridge (MOR) is an underwater mountain system formed by plate tectonics. It consists of various mountains linked in chains, typically having a valley known as a rift running along its spine. This type of oceanic mountain ridge is characteristic of what is known as an 'oceanic spreading center', which is responsible for seafloor spreading. The production of new seafloor results from mantle upwelling in response to plate spreading; this isentropic upwelling solid mantle material eventually exceeds the solidus and melts. The buoyant melt rises as magma at a linear weakness in the oceanic crust, and emerges as lava, creating new crust upon cooling. A mid-ocean ridge demarcates the boundary between two tectonic plates, and consequently is termed a divergent plate boundary.

Chersky Range mountain range

The Chersky Range is a chain of mountains in northeastern Siberia between the Yana River and the Indigirka River. It generally runs from northwest to southeast through the Sakha Republic and Magadan Oblast. The highest peak in the range is Peak Pobeda, which is 3,003 meters tall. The range lies on the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The Chersky mountains, along with the neighboring Verkhoyansk Range, have a moderate effect on the climate of Siberia. The ridges obstruct west-moving air flows, decreasing the amount of snowfall in the plains to the west.

Explorer Ridge A mid-ocean ridge west of British Columbia, Canada

The Explorer Ridge is a mid-ocean ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary located about 241 km (150 mi) west of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It lies at the northern extremity of the Pacific spreading axis. To its east is the Explorer Plate, which together with the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Gorda Plate to its south, is what remains of the once-vast Farallon Plate which has been largely subducted under the North American Plate. The Explorer Ridge consists of one major segment, the Southern Explorer Ridge, and several smaller segments. It runs northward from the Sovanco Fracture Zone to the Queen Charlotte Triple Junction, a point where it meets the Queen Charlotte Fault and the northern Cascadia subduction zone.

Anahim hotspot

The Anahim hotspot is a volcanic hotspot located in the West-Central Interior of British Columbia, Canada. One of the few hotspots in North America, the Anahim plume is responsible for the creation of the Anahim Volcanic Belt. This is a 300 km (190 mi) long chain of volcanoes and other magmatic features that have undergone erosion. The chain extends from the community of Bella Bella in the west to near the small city of Quesnel in the east. While most volcanoes are created by geological activity at tectonic plate boundaries, the Anahim hotspot is located hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest plate boundary.

Galápagos hotspot

The Galápagos hotspot is a volcanic hotspot in the East Pacific Ocean responsible for the creation of the Galapagos Islands as well as three major aseismic ridge systems, Carnegie, Cocos and Malpelo which are on two tectonic plates. The hotspot is located near the Equator on the Nazca Plate not far from the divergent plate boundary with the Cocos Plate. The tectonic setting of the hotspot is complicated by the Galapagos Triple Junction of the Nazca and Cocos plates with the Pacific Plate. The movement of the plates over the hotspot is determined not solely by the spreading along the ridge but also by the relative motion between the Pacific Plate and the Cocos and Nazca Plates.

The Terceira Rift is a geological rift located amidst the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean. It runs between the Azores Triple Junction to the west and the Azores–Gibraltar Transform Fault to the southeast. It separates the Eurasian Plate to the north from the African Plate to the south. The Terceira Rift is named for Terceira Island through which it passes.

Olympic-Wallowa Lineament

The Olympic-Wallowa lineament (OWL) – first reported by cartographer Erwin Raisz in 1945 on a relief map of the continental United States – is a physiographic feature of unknown origin in the state of Washington running approximately from the town of Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula to the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon.

This is a list of articles related to plate tectonics and tectonic plates.

Slab pull is that part of the motion of a tectonic plate that is caused by its subduction. Plate motion is partly driven by the weight of cold, dense plates sinking into the mantle at oceanic trenches. This force and slab suction account for almost all of the force driving plate tectonics. The ridge push at rifts contributes only 5 to 10%.

Geology of North America regional geology of North America

The geology of North America is a subject of regional geology and covers the North American continent, third-largest in the world. Geologic units and processes are investigated on a large scale to reach a synthesized picture of the geological development of the continent.

Geology of the Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean evolved in the Mesozoic from the Panthalassic Ocean, which had formed when Rodinia rifted apart around 750 Ma. The first ocean floor which is part of the current Pacific Plate began 160 Ma to the west of the central Pacific and subsequently developed into the largest oceanic plate on Earth.


  1. "Sizes of Tectonic or Lithospheric Plates". 2014-03-05. Retrieved 2016-01-11.
  2. USGS Professional Paper 1515
  3. USGS Farallon Plate maps
  4. "Hotspots": Mantle thermal plumes
  5. Earth's interior: Raising hot spots
  6. Upper-mantle origin of the Yellowstone hotspot
  7. Seismic evidence for convection-driven motion of the North American plate, David W. Eaton & Andrew Frederiksen, Nature, March 22, 2007
  8. Feldman, Jay (2005). When the Mississippi Ran Backwards : Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes. Free Press. ISBN   978-0-7432-4278-3.