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Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics

The world's earthquakes are not randomly distributed over the Earth's surface. They tend to be concentrated in narrow zones. Why is this? And why are volcanoes and mountain ranges also found in these zones, too? An explanation is to be found in plate tectonics, a concept which has revolutionized thinking in the Earth's sciences in the last 10 years. The theory of plate tectonics combines many of the ideas about continental drift (originally proposed in 1912 by Alfred Wegener in Germany) and sea-floor spreading (suggested originally by Harry Hess of Princeton University).

Plate tectonics tells us that the Earth's rigid outer shell (lithosphere) is broken into a mosaic of oceanic and continental plates which can slide over the plastic aesthenosphere, which is the uppermost layer of the mantle. The plates are in constant motion. Where they interact, along their margins, important geological processes take place, such as the formation of mountain belts, earthquakes, and volcanoes.