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The African tectonic plate is one of the eight major tectonic plates on Earth.

Read this lesson to learn what makes the African plate unique and how it’s moving.

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Definition of Tectonic Plates

The earth’s crust is a rigid material wrapped around a sphere. As you can imagine, this means it’s broken into pieces. Just picture trying wrapping a dinner plate around a basketball.

You’d have to break the plate into multiple pieces in order to get the plate to cover the ball. When it comes to the earth, these multiple rigid pieces are called tectonic plates. They are bounded by major fault lines on all sides.

These plates are moving by floating on the underlying semi-molten mantle. As the tectonic plates move, there are three different options for how they can interact with nearby plates: divergent, convergent, or transform boundaries. Divergent boundaries are where two plates are moving apart from each other. Convergent boundaries are where two plates are colliding. Transform boundaries are where two plates are moving laterally past each other.

African Plate Boundaries

The African plate has two of these types of plate boundaries around its border.

The northern part of the plate is a convergent boundary where the African plate is subducting below the Eurasian plate. Subduction zones are convergent boundaries, and where they collide, one plate dives below the other. In this case, the African plate is diving below the Eurasian plate.

All the other sides of the African plate are divergent boundaries. Along the eastern, southern, and most of the western sides of the plate are mid-ocean ridges. Mid-ocean ridges are divergent plate boundaries marked by chains of volcanoes along the seafloor.

These volcanoes are formed from the earth’s crust being pulled apart, causing magma to rise to the surface and erupt on the seafloor.The most interesting feature of the African plate is that it’s actively splitting apart to form an entirely new plate. You may have heard of the East African Rift, which is a section of the crust that is being stretched, resulting in a deep valley. This rift zone starts near the Red Sea in Ethiopia and extends into Kenya.Geologists think rifts like these mark the beginning of the processes that eventually result in new ocean basins. First, a continental rift system develops. Then, the rift system widens enough that seafloor begins to be formed.

The Red Sea shows the next step in this process because it only contains a small amount of seafloor. Eventually, it will will open to form a full ocean basin with a mid-ocean ridge in the middle like the Atlantic Ocean.

African Plate Movement

So let’s think about the forces acting along the boundaries of the African plate. The northern portion of the plate is being pulled under the Eurasian plate at the subduction boundary. The plate is being pushed to the west by the divergent boundary in the Atlantic Ocean, while also being pushed to the north by the divergent boundary along the southern plate.

The movement in the western portion of the plate is more difficult to discern with the formation of the new plate occurring. Regardless, we can identify that the overall plate motion is toward the north and east into the subduction zone.

Lesson Summary

The African tectonic plate (which is a rigid piece of the earth’s crust and are bounded by major fault lines on all sides) is one of the eight major tectonic plates making up the earth’s crust. Tectonic plates are rigid pieces of crust that move on top of the semi-molten mantle. They are bounded by either convergent (where two plates are colliding), divergent (where two plates are moving apart from each other), or transform boundaries (where two plates are moving laterally past each other).The African plate is bounded by divergent boundaries, where the plates are moving apart, and convergent boundaries, where the plates are colliding. The convergent boundary along the northern edge is a subduction zone (convergent boundaries and where they collide, one plate dives below the other) where the African plate is diving below the Eurasian plate.

The majority of the divergent boundaries are mid-ocean ridges, which are volcanic chains resulting from the earth’s crust being ripped apart. The African plate also contains the beginning of a new tectonic plate at the East African Rift, a section of the crust that is being stretched, resulting in a deep valley. Considering the combined forces of all of these plate boundaries, the plate is overall moving to the northeast.

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