Earth Like a Puzzle - Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes, and Volcanoes
See how the Earth's plates come togetherSee how Earth Plates RecycleTake a look beneath Earth's surface

by Nan Criqui
Most people know that Earth is moving around the Sun and that it is constantly spinning. But did you know that the continents and oceans are moving across the surface of the planet? Volcanoes and earthquakes as well as mountain ranges and islands all are results of this movement.
Less than 100 years ago, many scientists thought the continents always had been the same shape and in the same place. A few scientists noted that the eastern coastline of South America and the western coastline of Africa looked as if they could fit together. Some also noted that, with a little imagination, all the continents could be joined together like giant puzzle pieces to create one large continent surrounded by one huge ocean.

Plate TectonicsPlate Tectonics

Imagine the continents as giant puzzle pieces. When the pieces are placed in this arrangement you can see how well their coastlines fit together.
Plate Tectonics
See how plate tectonics affected dinosaur fossils Click here to see where fossils were found!

It was known that lands now far apart and with very different climates contained the same kinds of fossil plants and animals. For example, certain dinosaur fossils have been found across central South America and western central Africa, and nowhere else. Identical fossil plants have been found in southern South America, southern Africa, India, Antarctica, and Australia. Evidence of an ancient glacier that was once one large ice cap can be found in South America, Africa, India, and Australia. These areas would join if the present continents were moved so that they fitted together into one whole. But no one could explain how or why this movement might happen.

Putting the Puzzle Together...

� 2000-2001 Scripps Institution of Oceanography