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Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Plate Tectonics!

Why do earthquakes happen?
Where do they happen?
Are they related to volcanoes?
Look at the evidence and
find your own answers!

Map of the world showing earthquake epicenters 1960-1995.  Click to animate!
(Map animation courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)
 This page is part of a set of interdisciplinary learning 
modules created by geologists, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians.  This module helps students and teachers learn more about earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate tectonics by using different tools and methods of these disciplines.

STUDENTS AND INSTRUCTORS: This activity involves comparing data from several maps to try to draw conclusions about the geologic features found at various positions with respect to tectonic plates and plate boundaries.  The material is used in a "jigsaw" activity.  For more information, see the links page.

STEP ONE: Click here for a list of study sites.  Individually, in small groups, or as a class, look at a map or globe of the world (or find online maps) and locate each of the study sites.  If a wall map of the world is available, you may want to post sticky-notes to mark the location of each place. 

STEP TWO: Divide the class into 4-5 expert groups.  Each group should be responsible for one of the maps in this table [active volcanoes (two maps),  hotspots, thickness of the earth's crust, and depth of earthquake focus].  If you have five groups, you may wish to investigate the two volcano maps in separate groups. 

Work together to become experts on your map.  What does it illustrate?  Who made it?  On what data is it based?  (Full size versions are accessible by clicking on each map; you may want to print out hardcopies.) 

Active volcanoes: 
Are there active volcanoes at each study site? 
Source: USGS
Are there hotspots at each study site?

Source: USGS

Each red dot in this map is an active volcano! 
Source: USGS
Thickness of Earth's crust:
How thick is the earth's crust at each study site? 
Source: USGS
Depth of earthquake focus:
How deep are the earthquakes at each study site? 
Source: USGS

STEP THREE:  Still working with your map in the expert group, locate each of the study sites on the list from Step One. This may be challenging, given the different appearances, projections, and scales of the maps!  Determine what your map tells you about each site, and record the information.  Pay particular attention to the geologic features at each site.

STEP FOUR:  Now for the jigsaw!  Re-form into new groups, each group containing one expert for each map.  Have each student share the information their individual map gives about each study site. 

STEP FIVE: Still in the jigsaw group, find the study sites on a world map of plate boundaries to the right. 

If the study site is on a boundary between two plates, pay special attention to what kind of plates they are (continental vs. oceanic) and what type of boundary it is (spreading, converging, or transform).  Compile all the data and come up with some general hypotheses about geologic features and activity at the various kinds of plate boundaries.

Links for educators and curious others

The NASA/UNCF Project at NEIU     | Northeastern Illinois University

Text of this page © 2003 The NASA/UNCF Project,  Northeastern Illinois University
Last updated December 16, 2003.