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Tectonics (from Latin tectonicus ; from Ancient Greek τεκτονικός (tektonikos) 'pertaining to building ' [1] ) are the processes that control the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. These include the processes of mountain building, the growth and behavior of the strong, old cores of continents known as cratons, and the ways in which the relatively rigid plates that constitute the Earth's outer shell interact with each other. Tectonics also provide a framework for understanding the earthquake and volcanic belts that directly affect much of the global population.


Tectonic studies are important as guides for economic geologists searching for fossil fuels and ore deposits of metallic and nonmetallic resources. An understanding of tectonic principles is essential to geomorphologists to explain erosion patterns and other Earth surface features.

Main types of tectonic regime

Extensional tectonics

Extensional tectonics is associated with the stretching and thinning of the crust or the lithosphere. This type of tectonics is found at divergent plate boundaries, in continental rifts, during and after a period of continental collision caused by the lateral spreading of the thickened crust formed, at releasing bends in strike-slip faults, in back-arc basins, and on the continental end of passive margin sequences where a detachment layer is present.

Thrust (contractional) tectonics

Thrust tectonics is associated with the shortening and thickening of the crust, or the lithosphere. This type of tectonics is found at zones of continental collision, at restraining bends in strike-slip faults, and at the oceanward part of passive margin sequences where a detachment layer is present.

Strike-slip tectonics

San Andreas transform fault on the Carrizo Plain Aerial-SanAndreas-CarrizoPlain.jpg
San Andreas transform fault on the Carrizo Plain

Strike-slip tectonics is associated with the relative lateral movement of parts of the crust or the lithosphere. This type of tectonics is found along oceanic and continental transform faults which connect offset segments of mid-ocean ridges. Strike-slip tectonics also occurs at lateral offsets in extensional and thrust fault systems. In areas involved with plate collisions strike-slip deformation occurs in the over-riding plate in zones of oblique collision and accommodates deformation in the foreland to a collisional belt.

Plate tectonics

In plate tectonics the outermost part of the Earth the crust and uppermost mantle  are viewed as acting as a single mechanical layer, the lithosphere. The lithosphere is divided into separate "plates" that move relative to each other on the underlying, relatively weak asthenosphere in a process ultimately driven by the continuous loss of heat from the Earth's interior. There are three main types of plate boundaries: divergent, where plates move apart from each other and new lithosphere is formed in the process of sea-floor spreading; transform, where plates slide past each other, and convergent, where plates converge and lithosphere is "consumed" by the process of subduction. Convergent and transform boundaries form the largest structural discontinuities in the lithosphere and are responsible for most of the world's major (Mw > 7) earthquakes. Convergent and divergent boundaries are also the site of most of the world's volcanoes, such as around the Pacific Ring of Fire. Most of the deformation in the lithosphere is related to the interaction between plates, either directly or indirectly.

Other fields of tectonic studies

Salt tectonics

Salt tectonics is concerned with the structural geometries and deformation processes associated with the presence of significant thicknesses of rock salt within a sequence of rocks. This is due both to the low density of salt, which does not increase with burial, and its low strength.


Neotectonics is the study of the motions and deformations of the Earth's crust (geological and geomorphological processes) that are current or recent in geological time. [2] The term may also refer to the motions and deformations themselves. The corresponding time frame is referred to as the neotectonic period. Accordingly, the preceding time is referred to as palaeotectonic period.


Tectonophysics is the study of the physical processes associated with deformation of the crust and mantle from the scale of individual mineral grains up to that of tectonic plates.


Seismotectonics is the study of the relationship between earthquakes, active tectonics, and individual faults in a region. It seeks to understand which faults are responsible for seismic activity in an area by analysing a combination of regional tectonics, recent instrumentally recorded events, accounts of historical earthquakes, and geomorphological evidence. This information can then be used to quantify the seismic hazard of an area.

Planetary tectonics

Techniques used in the analysis of tectonics on Earth have also been applied to the study of the planets and their moons.

See also

Related Research Articles

Orogeny The formation of mountain ranges

An orogeny is an event that leads to both structural deformation and compositional differentiation of the Earth's lithosphere at convergent plate margins. An orogen or orogenic belt develops when a continental plate crumples and is uplifted to form one or more mountain ranges; this involves a series of geological processes collectively called orogenesis.

Oceanic trench Long and narrow depressions of the sea floor

Oceanic trenches are topographic depressions of the seafloor, relatively narrow in width, but very long. These oceanographic features are the deepest parts of the ocean floor. Oceanic trenches are a distinctive morphological feature of convergent plate boundaries, along which lithospheric plates move towards each other at rates that vary from a few millimeters to over ten centimeters per year. A trench marks the position at which the flexed, subducting slab begins to descend beneath another lithospheric slab. Trenches are generally parallel to a volcanic island arc, and about 200 km (120 mi) from a volcanic arc. Oceanic trenches typically extend 3 to 4 km below the level of the surrounding oceanic floor. The greatest ocean depth measured is in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench, at a depth of 11,034 m (36,201 ft) below sea level. Oceanic lithosphere moves into trenches at a global rate of about 3 km2/yr.

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

Subduction is a geological process in which oceanic lithosphere is recycled into the Earth's mantle at convergent boundaries. Where the oceanic lithosphere of a tectonic plate converges with the less dense lithosphere of a second plate, the heavier plate dives beneath the second plate and sinks into the mantle. A region where this process occurs is known as a subduction zone, and its surface expression is known as an arc-trench complex. The process of subduction has created most of the Earth's continental crust. Rates of subduction are typically measured in centimeters per year, with the average rate of convergence being approximately two to eight centimeters per year along most plate boundaries.

Transform fault Plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal

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

Sedimentary basin Regions of long-term subsidence creating space for infilling by sediments

Sedimentary basins are regions of the Earth where long-term subsidence creates accommodation space for accumulation of sediments. As the sediments are buried, they are subject to increasing pressure and begin the processes of compaction and lithification that transform them into sedimentary rock.

Fault (geology) Fracture or discontinuity in rock across which there has been displacement

In geology, a fault is a planar fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock across which there has been significant displacement as a result of rock-mass movements. Large faults within the Earth's crust result from the action of plate tectonic forces, with the largest forming the boundaries between the plates, such as subduction zones or transform faults. Energy release associated with rapid movement on active faults is the cause of most earthquakes. Faults may also displace slowly, by aseismic creep.

Convergent boundary Region of active deformation between colliding tectonic plates

A convergent boundary is an area on Earth where two or more lithospheric plates collide. One plate eventually slides beneath the other, a process known as subduction. The subduction zone can be defined by a plane where many earthquakes occur, called the Wadati–Benioff zone. These collisions happen on scales of millions to tens of millions of years and can lead to volcanism, earthquakes, orogenesis, destruction of lithosphere, and deformation. Convergent boundaries occur between oceanic-oceanic lithosphere, oceanic-continental lithosphere, and continental-continental lithosphere. The geologic features related to convergent boundaries vary depending on crust types.

Extensional tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the stretching of a planetary body's crust or lithosphere.

Thrust tectonics Study of the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the shortening and thickening of the crust

Thrust tectonics or contractional tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the shortening and thickening of the crust or lithosphere.

Strike-slip tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, zones of lateral displacement within the Earth's crust or lithosphere.

A submarine, undersea, or underwater earthquake is an earthquake that occurs underwater at the bottom of a body of water, especially an ocean. They are the leading cause of tsunamis. The magnitude can be measured scientifically by the use of the moment magnitude scale and the intensity can be assigned using the Mercalli intensity scale.

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

Bangong suture

The Bangong suture zone is approximately 1200 km long and trends in an east–west orientation, and a key location in the central Tibet conjugate fault zone. Located in central Tibet between the Lhasa and Qiangtang terranes, it is a discontinuous belt of ophiolites and mélange that is 10–20 km wide, up to 50 km wide in places. The northern part of the fault zone consists of northeast striking sinistral strike-slip faults while the southern part consists of northwest striking right lateral strike-slip faults. These conjugate faults to the north and south of the Bangong intersect with each other along the Bangong-Nujiang suture zone.

Tectonics of the Tian Shan

The Tian Shan is a mountain range in central Asia that extends through western China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The Tian Shan is 2,800 kilometres (1,700 mi) long, and up to 7,400 metres (24,300 ft) high. Throughout the Tian Shan there are several intermontane basins separated by high ranges. Plate tectonic theory makes the assumption that deformation is concentrated along plate boundaries. However, active deformation is observed in the Tian Shan, far from plate boundaries. This apparent contradiction of plate tectonic theory makes the Tian Shan a key place to study the dynamics of intracontinental deformation.

Intraplate deformation

Intraplate deformation is the folding, breaking, or flow of the Earth's crust within plates instead of at their margins. This process usually occurs in areas with especially weak crust and upper mantle, such as the Tibetan Plateau. Intraplate deformation brings another aspect to plate tectonic theory.

Thick-skinned deformation is a geological term which refers to crustal shortening that involves basement rocks and deep-seated faults as opposed to only the upper units of cover rocks above the basement which is known as thin-skinned deformation. While thin-skinned deformation is common in many different localities, thick-skinned deformation requires much more strain to occur and is a rarer type of deformation.

El Tigre Fault

The El Tigre Fault is a 120 km long, roughly north-south trending, major strike-slip fault located in the Western Precordillera in Argentina. The Precordillera lies just to the east of the Andes mountain range in South America. The northern boundary of the fault is the Jáchal River and its southern boundary is the San Juan River. The fault is divided into three sections based on fault trace geometry, Northern extending between 41–46 km in length, Central extending between 48–53 km in length, and Southern extending 26 km in length. The fault displays a right-lateral (horizontal) motion and has formed in response to stresses from the Nazca Plate subducting under the South American Plate. It is a major fault with crustal significance. The Andes Mountain belt trends with respect to the Nazca Plate/South American Plate convergence zone, and deformation is divided between the Precordilleran thrust faults and the El Tigre strike-slip motion. The El Tigre Fault is currently seismically active.

Indenter tectonics, also known as escape tectonics, is a branch of strike-slip tectonics that involves the collision and deformation of two continental plates. It can be observed in many situations around the world, and is associated with high-grade metamorphism and extensive lateral displacement of strata along oblique strike-slip faults

In geology, the term exhumation refers to the process by which a parcel of rock, approaches Earth's surface.

Geology of Myanmar

The geology of Myanmar is shaped by dramatic, ongoing tectonic processes controlled by shifting tectonic components as the Indian plate slides northwards and towards Southeast Asia. Myanmar spans across parts of three tectonic plates separated by north-trending faults. To the west, a highly oblique subduction zone separates the offshore Indian plate from the Burma microplate, which underlies most of the country. In the center-east of Myanmar, a right lateral strike slip fault extends from south to north across more than 1,000 km (620 mi). These tectonic zones are responsible for large earthquakes in the region. The India-Eurasia plate collision which initiated in the Eocene provides the last geological pieces of Myanmar, and thus Myanmar preserves a more extensive Cenozoic geological record as compared to records of the Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras. Myanmar is physiographically divided into three regions: the Indo-Burman Range, Myanmar Central Belt and the Shan Plateau; these all display an arcuate shape bulging westwards. The varying regional tectonic settings of Myanmar not only give rise to disparate regional features, but they also foster the formation of petroleum basins and a diverse mix of mineral resources.


  1. "tectonic". Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. "Encyclopedia of Coastal Science" (2005), Springer, ISBN   978-1-4020-1903-6, Chapter 1: "Tectonics and Neotectonics" doi : 10.1007/1-4020-3880-1

Further reading