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Solution on the effects of plate tectonics on Earth

Solution dealing with the effects of plate tectonics on climate, ancient life, and geography. How has the motion/location of the tectonic plates influenced the climate of Earth over geologic time?
How does the motion of the tectonic plates affect the geography? (surface features)
How does the motion of the tectonic plates affect the distribution of organisms? (current and fossil life)

Solution Preview

Okay, so each of the questions revolves around plate tectonics. Plate tectonics, briefly, is the theory that the upper layer of the mantle along with the overriding crust (together called the lithosphere) is broken up into massive chunks that are called plates. These plates are then independently moving atop the lower mantle which moves slowly (like taffy or warm plastic...in fact, this property is called plasticity) due to the pressure and heat at that depth. So the plates can interact with each other at the boundaries between them. There are three main types of plate boundaries (and some sub-types): convergent [coming together], divergent [moving apart] and transform [sliding past one another].

Okay, so how has plate tectonics influenced climate over geologic time? Well, based on the positions of the landmasses being carried along by the plates, oceanic currents can be blocked or formed, mountain ranges can affect airflow in the atmosphere, and large enough landmasses over the poles can begin to ice over, eventually affecting the entire planet. Let me give you a few examples.
When the Isthmus of Panama finally connected North and South America (early Cenozoic) the oceanic current that had formerly flowed through that region was deflected to the north and south, influencing the climates of the western coasts of both of those ...

Solution Summary

In this solution, I discuss the following questions:
How has the motion/location of the tectonic plates influenced the climate of Earth over geologic time?
How does the motion of the tectonic plates affect the geography? (surface features)
How does the motion of the tectonic plates affect the distribution of organisms? (current and fossil life)

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