Solid Earth

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

  • An Introduction to the ABCs of Plate Tectonics. This introduction to plate tectonics covers plates and boundaries, subduction zones, colliding continents, plumes, and earthquakes. There is also more advanced material on buoyancy, floating continents, and rates of isostasy; sedimentation, continental growth, rifts and creation of continental margins, passive and active margins, and island arcs and back-arc basins; continental collision, folding of sedimentary layers, and collision of cratons; and the mechanism of plate tectonics including convective mantles, convection models, distribution of plumes, plume driven convection, plate rifting models, and triple junctions. (more info)
  • Case Histories in Applied Geophysics. This site is designed as a reference resource for case histories in applied geophysics. Sorted first by geophysical method, including gravity, magnetics, seismic methods, DC resistivity - induced polarization and SP, electromagnetics, GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar), and inversion methods, each section is then broken down into three additional sections. 1. Summaries from the literature compiled for teaching purposes. These are usually short summaries of one part of a journal article, with one or two relevant figures. 2. Case histories written at the University of British Columbia. 3. Links to case histories at other web sites, often from companies that perform contract work, or manufacture equipment or software. (more info)
  • Discover Our Earth. These educational webpages provide a means to create user-directed, GIS-based maps of earthquakes, volcanoes, and topography and relate these to plate boundary type. 'Discover Our Earth' is a product of the Institute for the Study of the Continents (INSTOC) at Cornell University. (more info)
  • EarthScope. EarthScope applies modern observational, analytical, and telecommunications technologies to investigate the structure and evolution of the North American continent and the physical processes controlling earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Imaging the crust and mantle at an unprecedented scale, EarthScope integrates new observations from cutting-edge land and space based technologies to measure deformation in real-time at continental scales. These observations, integrated with geologic data, yield a comprehensive time-integrated picture of continental evolution and link surface features with their structures at depth. The site houses a number of original data sources (such as real-time seismic data and maps), a gateway to current seismic news and events, and Earth sciences related community event calendars. (more info)
  • Geology: Plate Tectonics Animations. Plate tectonic animations for a broad range of time periods are provided on this site. These animations depict continental configurations through time and supply several links to additional information about each time period. Links to detailed discussions about plate tectonics are provided. ( This site may be offline. )
  • Gondwana Animation. This animation is one result of a determined effort to use new information to better constrain the history of continental dispersal and create a more accurate geological map of reassembled Gondwana. All the continental movements are shown relative to a number of hotspots, the position of which is held fixed with respect to the earth's rotation axis. This gives results that agree overall with paleomagnetic and paleoclimatic information for the period. The site also provides a slide show presentation about historical events that formed the Indian Ocean. (more info)
  • How the Earth Works : Dynamic Planet. Processes in our continuously evolving Earth have given rise to the formation of an internally-layered planet with continents, oceans and an atmosphere. This continuing activity is manifested by the destructive powers of such phenomena as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, mountain building, and plate motion. Starting with the formation of our Universe and evolution of stars like our Sun, the goal of this course is to present an integrated approach to Earth's unique characteristics, and explain her physical principles using conceptual and factual material. The website offers a lecture schedule with supporting material, homework assignments, a link to an interactive resource guide, and Powerpoint slides. (more info)
  • Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS): Education and Outreach. This consortium of research universities is dedicated to exploring the Earth's interior through the acquisition and distribution of seismic data. Educational resources include high-quality, one-page handouts in PDF format on a range of topics within seismology (available in Spanish as well as English), gif animations that illustrate fault movements, and slides of earthquake-related damage. There are several links to seismology lesson plans and activities for a range of audiences, as well as maps depicting seismic activity around the globe. (more info)
  • NASA Volcanology Projects . The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Earth Observing System Interdisciplinary Science Volcanology team provides assessments of active volcanism, volcanic hazards, and volcanic inputs to the atmosphere. This page provides information about their current research activities. Information is provided on the following volcanoes: Fernandina in the Galapagos Islands, Kilauea in Hawaii, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and Piton de la Fournaise on Reunion Island. An introduction to each volcano is provided, as well as photos and satellite images of eruptions, geology and geography, and various types of lava flows. Also included are the individual areas of study. These include eruption cloud dynamics, atmospheric emissions, thermal measurements, topographic measurements, volcanic hazards, distribution of rock units, geologic mapping, and surface volcanism. (more info)
  • Our Dynamic Planet. This CD-ROM consists of tools for learner investigations of data that support the theory of Plate Tectonics. Data are accessible through a point and click interface with extensive online help. This was designed for use in an introductory oceanography course to engage students in the process of posing a research question, sampling and selecting data, making an interpretation, and writing up the results in science paper format. Contents include a virtual plate tectonics lecture with 30 minutes of animated video and visualizations of the major plate boundaries, including transform faults, spreading centers, and subduction zones. The India-Eurasia continental collision is discussed. A geography game is intended to help students recognize the location of continents, seas, and oceans on a world map. A profile game helps students learn to use elevation profiles to visualize topographic features. A zoomable, scrollable world map with a point and click interface to plot earth data allows students to distinguish between the plate boundary types and examine several spreading centers at high resolution. Elevation profiles (from ETOPO5 DEM), earthquake plots (map and cross-section view), volcanoes, seafloor age, island ages, heat flow, and still and video images are available. Any portion of the screen can be captured for incorporation into student presentations and writing exercises. A simple graphics editor allows students to compose, edit, and print their image displays. This software supports inquiries into plate boundary types, hot spots, plate velocities and directions. In addition, subduction zones can be compared and the East Pacific Rise can be contrasted with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, using the high-resolution data. Magnetic anomalies are shown in the high-resolution data, and can be used to study how to determine seafloor age. A companion teacher's manual discusses elements of a science investigation, how to write a science paper, how to use the software, and gives examples of investigations that can be performed. (more info)
  • Planck Radiation Laws. In this Plank's Radiation exercise, students use an existing Excel workbook to investigate how spectral irradiance from a blackbody radiator depends on temperature, and to clearly see the connection between Planck's Radiation law, and the Stefan-Boltzman and Wien Radiation laws. Students adjust the solar temperature to get the best fit between observations and the spectral irradiance calculated from Planck's Radiation Law for a blackbody radiator. Two sets of observational based solar spectral irradiance are included for comparison. This exercise is useful in a variety of introductory Earth Science courses. The Starting Point site also includes teaching notes and tips, teaching materials, assessment idea and additional resources on the subject. This activity is part of the Starting Point Collection: (more info)
  • Plate Tectonic Primer. This site gives an in-depth look at the theory of plate tectonics and how it works. The structure of the Earth is discussed, with brief rock type descriptions. The structure of the lithosphere, plate boundaries, interplate relationships, and types of plates are all covered in detail. (more info)
  • Road Maps: a guide to learning system dynamics. MIT System Dynamics Education Project developed Road Maps, a series of self-guides, modeling and selected literature to help students and teachers learn the principles of system dynamics. This site is part of that project, and provides listings of articles and othe webpages containing discussion of Road Maps publications. Road Maps are a series of self-guides that use modeling exercises and selected literature to provide a resource for learning about the principles and practices of system dynamics. (more info)
  • Sea Floor Spreading Activity I. The Sea Floor Spreading Excel activity, the first of two parts, is used as and introductory Excel tutorial; Activity I. Students use spreadsheet program to explore the geodynamics model equation for ocean depth around a sea-floor spreading center. The activity is primarily an introductory tutorial on Excel for students with no prior Excel experience. The use of the equation relating ocean floor depth to sea floor spreading rate and distance from spreading center provides a geoscience context. Activity II, found in the Starting Point database, is a follow-up activity that has students use Excel to graphically compare the model predictions to observations from several North Atlantic cross-sections. This site also provides teaching notes and tips, teaching materials, assessment idea and additional resources. This activity is part of the Starting Point Collection: (more info)
  • Sea Floor Spreading Activity II. The Sea Floor Spreading activity is designed to help students learn the basic functions of the spreadsheet program Excel, by comparing Sea Floor Spreading Model Predictions with Observations. In this activity students import ocean bathymetry data from either the Topex web site or text files, they then graph these observations along with model predictions to assess the model's ability to simulate the observed topographic features of the North Atlantic. The exercise takes approximately 2 hours and is appropriate for use in introductory geoscience courses in which instructors wish to train students to use Excel for data down-loads and graphing ocean topography data. This site also provides teaching notes and tips, teaching materials, assessment idea and additional resources on the use of Excel and sea floor spreading. This activity is part of the Starting Point Collection: (more info)
  • Structural Geology on the Web: A Deformed Roadcut Along the Information Superhighway. This is a collection of hypertext links to assorted structural geology and tectonics resources available on the world-wide web. The categories include: data sets and bibliographies, structural images, computer software, plate tectonics, commercial products, books and journals, professional organizations, research groups, upcoming meetings, academic groups, courses and field trips, academic employment, and structural geologists. (more info)
  • Sun Path Activity. The Sun Path exercise helps students gain an understanding of the movement of the sun throught the day, month and year. The Sun Path JAVA applet uses equations for a spherical Earth to calculate the sunrise and sunset times, the solar azimuth and solar altitude for any time of year and any latitude. The program can be run in yearly, monthly, daily, or hourly modes to create animations of the sun's path across the sky for different conditions and with different time resolutions. The example activity provided has students use Sun Path in the yearly mode to investigate seasonal changes in sunrise, sunset, length of day and sun altitude at their own latitude. Students learn to graph data, estimate their shadow length for their height and the sun's altitude and use trigonometry to check their shadow length results. This Starting Point page includes teaching notes and tips, teaching materials, assessment idea and additional resources and references. (more info)
  • This Dynamic Earth: the Story of Plate Tectonics. Still images used to introduce the concept of plate tectonics in this classic treatment from the USGS. Illustrations are concise and easy to understand, and used to depict topics such as plate boundaries; plate motions; and hotspots and mantle thermal plumes. Includes a particularly clear and informative historical perspective. (more info)
  • Trace Gases. This Stella model allows students to learn about chemical mass balance in the atmosphere and apply this concept to atmospheric chlorofluorocarbon (important for ozone depletion) and carbon dioxide (important for global warming) concentration changes. Students will learn about chemical mass balance of the global atmosphere, understand the relationship between atmospheric life-time, source emission strength, and equilibrium concentration and be able to apply this to CFC concentration changes before and after international policies calling for the phase out of CFC production. The exercise is most useful in an introductory geoscience class with content related to global warming, ozone depletion, or global scale atmospheric pollution. This site also offers teaching notes and tips, teaching materials and assessment ideas. This activity is part of the Starting Point Collection: (more info)
  • USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. This is the home page of the Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The EHP is part of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) lead by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This page is a gateway to pages on Earthquake Activity, Earthquake Education, Earthquake Products, Regional Centers, Seismic Networks, Latest Significant Earthquake, Frequently Asked Questions, Report an Earthquake, and Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). (more info)
  • Virtual Earthquake. For those of you who are attempting to reach the sciencecourseware site: The site has been taken offline due to server and ADA compliance issues. Every attempt is being undertaken to restore the site as quickly as possible. Sorry for the inconvenience. Any updates will be posted to this page. Virtual Earthquake is an interactive web-based program designed to introduce the concepts of how an earthquake epicenter is located and how the Richter magnitude of an earthquake is determined. Virtual Earthquake shows the recordings of an earthquake's seismic waves detected by instruments far away from the earthquake. The instrument recording the seismic waves is called a seismograph and the recording is a seismogram. The point of origin of an earthquake is called its focus and the point on the earth's surface directly above the focus is the epicenter. You are to locate the epicenter of an earthquake by making simple measurements on three seismograms that are generated by the Virtual Earthquake program. Additionally, you will be required to determine the Richter Magnitude of that quake from the same recordings. Richter Magnitude is an estimate of the amount of energy released during an earthquake. ( This site is likely no longer available. )
  • What on Earth is Plate Tectonics?. This web site was put together by the U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey) and the N.P.S. (National Park Service) and provides an overview of plate tectonics. It begins by explaining about the Earth's core, mantle, and crust. It then discusses the crustal plates and the types of plate boundaries (convergent, divergent and transform). The lesson ends with paleogeographic reconstructions of plate distributions from the past 650 million years. ( This site may be offline. )