Connecting Cross-Sectional Data from the Red Sea to Plate Tectonics

This page authored by Laura Guertin, Penn State Delaware County

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Initial Publication Date: August 23, 2007 | Reviewed: October 19, 2012


Before completing this assignment, students should have been introduced to the types of plate boundaries and volcanic activity at plate boundaries. The assignment has students examine three cross-sectional profiles from a northern, central, and southern location of the Red Sea. Students answer a series of questions reading data from the profiles, then examine images and volcanic data in Google Earth to determine the type of plate boundary located in the Red Sea and to make predictions of tectonic activity in the future.

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Learning Goals

Students will focus on map reading, analysis of cross-sectional data, and application of data to plate tectonic processes.

Context for Use

This exercise can be conducted in class (if computers are available) or completed as a take-home assignment. The exercise is appropriate for a high school or introductory-level physical geology or oceanography class. One class period would be necessary to do the exercise and have a follow-up discussion. Students should have been introduced to maps that show relief and how to read cross-section profiles. Scissors are the only tool necessary for students to cut out the profiles and lay next to the appropriate map view of the Red Sea.

Description and Teaching Materials

The maps and cross sections are contained in the assignment handout. Students will need access to a computer with Google Earth to complete the assignment (Google Earth is available as a free download). The Google Earth files (in KML format) can easily be placed in an online course management system for students to download. It is recommended that the assignment file is also placed online so that students can see the maps in color.
Assignment handout (Acrobat (PDF) 234kB Apr17 07)
Google Earth - KMZ file - Red Sea (KMZ File 847kB Sep28 09)
Google Earth - KML file - Plate_Name ( 62kB Apr17 07)
Google Earth - KML file - Types_of_Plate_Boundaries ( 92kB Apr17 07)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students may need a general introduction to the geography and location of the Red Sea. The maps of the Red Sea provided in this assignment are in color. Instructors may want to print out one set of maps in color and place in sheet protectors so they can be used in class and again in future semesters. It is recommended that the assignment be given at the conclusion of a unit on plate tectonics.


Assessment questions are provided in the assignment handout. The questions at the beginning of the assignment ask students to report data that can be read from the profiles (low on Bloom's Taxonomy). The questions towards the end of the assignment rely on interpretation, prediction, and synthesis.

References and Resources

Google Earth (as a free download)

GeoMapApp (free download, used to create maps and cross sections)