• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Work with all your cloud files (Drive, Dropbox, and Slack and Gmail attachments) and documents (Google Docs, Sheets, and Notion) in one place. Try Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) for free. Now available on the web, Mac, Windows, and as a Chrome extension!


Plate Tectonics Final Map Project

Page history last edited by coylem@... 9 years, 6 months ago

Plate Tectonics Project  

Build Your Own Planet



Your Goal:


Create your own fictional Earth-like planet complete with continents, oceans, active tectonic margins, mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes, and other evidence of a dynamic system.  Your planet will have its own fictional geologic history that explains not only the changing surface but the evolution of any organisms that might live there.  Your planet will be presented as either a Mercator Projection Map (rectangular map of a spherical planet like the one above) or a 3 dimensional format that illustrates all of the features of your world.  The purpose of this assignment is to use your planet to demonstrate your understanding of earth’s geosphere and the parts of the hydrosphere we’ve studied thus far in class.  Feel free to go beyond the basic requirements.  Incorporate other topics from the unit into your projects for extra credit.


Step One: 


Begin brainstorming what your world is going to look like. It has to be relatively earth-like in that there are rigid lithospheric plates floating atop a fluid-like asthenosphere.  What is your world going to look like?  How old will it be?  What types of changes has it endured on its journey?  Where does it exist in the universe?  What star radiates energy upon it?


Draw a Sketch:

Draw and name the major continents (at least 7) and name them.  Keep in mind that you are drawing a 2D rough draft.  Parts of a Mercator map are exaggerated, particularly at the poles.


Draw continental margins (continental shapes) that reflect on a long geologic past of plate movements, erosion, and other geologic changes.  Don’t use smooth or curvy lines, look at a map and be realistic in your drawings.  The location of the continents should also start to tell a story of the past. 


The rest of your world is water.  Find the major spaces between continents and start naming oceans


Once you have drawn out continents and oceans it’s time to think about your plates.  Draw lines called plate margins to separate your planet into at least 12 tectonic plates that are created when you drew your margins.  Think of your project (oceans and continents, the whole map) as a large piece of glass.  Pick it up and drop it gently.  Imagine it broke into 12 or so jagged pieces.  Some plates are large, some are very small.  Give each plate a name.


Remember that you can have oceanic-oceanic, oceanic-continental, and continental-continental margins.  In other words the "lines" of your plates can go anywhere on the map, through continents and/or oceans.  Remember that you’re dealing with a spherical planet here.  Fold your paper around to ensure plates match up as if they were on a globe.  Your polar regions will be a little distorted on a Mercator Projection as well.  That’s why Antarctica looks so big on some maps. 


Where do most tectonic boundaries occur?  You'll address what features you'd find across your world later on.


Where are your plate boundaries divergent, convergent, or transform?  For example if you have two continents that "fit together," once were joined, and are now moving away from one another you may place a divergent boundary between them.  This is important especially for the macro plates on your map.  You may have to make changes to your planet if you find inconsistencies.  Use a pencil!  Pick a direction that each plate is moving.  Draw a large arrow in the center of the “piece” to indicate which direction the entire plate is moving. 


Now, transfer this direction to the entire boundary of your plate (all the way around the inside of the plate).  Think of this plate as if it were cut out or a puzzle piece.  Draw tiny arrows along the edge of the plate showing which direction it is moving.  Do this for each plate.  Along each boundary you should have arrows on each side pointing towards, away from, or sliding past each other.


  Step Two:



Look over the arrows you created in part one.  Create a system and start marking divergent,

convergent, and transform boundaries on your map.  Reference Global Map of Plate Boundaries on the website to help you.  Remember that different sides of a single plate could be moving in several different directions.  Look at Earth’s Pacific Plate for example, it’s sort of “spinning.”  Your world is one giant puzzle and your plates are puzzle pieces, think about this when you consider where plates are moving.  Ex. A plate moving in a relative northward direction is probably colliding with a plate to the north of it as well as pulling away (diverging) from a plate to the south of it.  Also remember that Earth is an oblate spheroid, not a flat 2D map! 


You may find boundaries where plates appear to “not follow the rules” (ie. Plates on either side move in the same direction or not really away from or towards one other).  Go back and alter your plate directions to fix these issues.


Use the class Plate Boundaries class assignment to start deciding what types of features you are going to find along your plate boundaries.  For example, if you have a divergent boundary between two oceanic plates (look up Divergent: Oceanic-Oceanic on your worksheet) you'll find that you should place a Mid-Ocean Ridge along this boundary.  This is going to take awhile, you need to analyze every inch of plate boundary on your map!  Your map will start to get "busy" with all of the details/features.  Start building a key that will code symbols for the features on your map.


Make symbols in your key and on your rough draft map where you'd find: Mid-Ocean Ridges, Earthquake/Fault Zones, Volcanoes, Rift Valleys, Deep Ocean Trenches, Stratovolcanoes, Island Arcs, Undersea Volcanoes, Mountains, Rift Zones, etc. 


Note that your maps may change slightly as a result of these interactions.   ex. If you find an Oceanic-Oceanic Convergent boundary you might add an Island Arc (like Japan) to your world near that boundary.

You should also add "ancient" features (ie. mountain ranges) that exist on your continents from earlier plate movements.  These features may be used as evidence to piece the continents together.  (Note: they should have a different symbol in your key than modern mountains caused by plate collisions)


Step Three: 


At this point your planet is starting to shape up (literally)!  Feel free to make changes and additions as you proceed.  Remember you’ll be making a final draft in the end.


Let’s Habitate Your Planet:

Design at least 5 species of life that currently live on or once lived on your planet.  They can include plants, animals, fungi, protists or bacteria.  Create sketches of these organisms a.) alive and/or b.) fossilized (these can be tracks, leaf impressions, or any type of fossils).  Distribute the locations of these fossils on your continents.  This distribution could be reminiscent of Wegener's discoveries that reinforced the idea of continental drift.  In other words they should represent evidence that your continents were once formed into a super continent.  These sketches and the distributions will be included in your final project.  Create symbols for your fossils and/or organisms in your key.


Write the History:

How did your planet get here?  What evidence of the past exists on its surface or deep below?  Write a creative geologic history of your planet including every major event, catastrophe, mass extinction, mountain building event, and otherwise that occurred from day one until today.  Be sure to use your events to divide groups on a geologic time scale organized into Eons, Eras, and Periods.  How old is your planet anyway?


Check Your Key:

Do you have symbols for everything so far?  The goal is to present as many details as possible on your final map while doing so in a clear and concise manner. 



Step Four: 


Now identify areas of Normal, Reverse, and Strike-Slip faulting.  This is fairly easy if you use the image below or if you remember that:


  • ·         Normal faults (hanging wall moves down relative to the foot wall) are found at divergent boundaries,
  • ·         Reverse faults (hanging wall moves up relative to the foot wall) are found at convergent boundaries,
  • ·        Strike-slip faults (sliding) are found at transform boundaries.




  • Weak, shallow earthquakes normally occur at Normal Faults. 
  • Many strong earthquakes have occurred at Reverse and Thrust faults.  
  • Most earthquakes at Strike-Slip faults are Moderate, but there are 


Use this information to create symbols for Earthquakes and faults.  Add them to your key.  Hint: circles to show epicenters, circles with larger diameter show larger quakes.  Use the Richter scale.  Find the locations of these earthquakes and add these symbols to your map.  How many quakes have occurred along these faults?  Probably a lot!



What about other types of volcanoes you say?

Now would be a good time to start thinking volcanism.  Where on your planet would one find shield volcanoes?  Over oceanic hot spots of course.  What would this look like?  (see Hawaii)  Stratovolcanoes should already be on your map?  What about Cinder cones?  A good tip to show volcanic eruptions on your planet is to use triangle of different sizes to show eruptions on the VEI (Volcanic Explosivity Index). 



Step Five:

Where are the continents on your planet?  Are they attached as a giant super continent?  Are they en route to colliding?  Are they moving apart after having been connected for millions of years?  Chances are good, regardless of what your planet looks like, that it had, has, or will have a super continent.


Proving a Super Continent Existed:

What else did Wegener observe and use to support his theory of continental drift?  What type of evidence could you use on your planets?

  • matching mountain ranges on separate continents
  • matching rock strata
  • areas of coal deposits (fossilized plants)
  • petroleum/natural gas deposits(these would appear in folds of rock where aquatic ocean life lived and died, some areas that are now land and some areas still covered by oceans)
  • glacial striations (these are glacial scratches like the ones in Central Park in NYC, they were used like fossils to put the continent puzzle together).  Glacial striations should be found on continents that were once or are currently near your poles. 
  • glacial till deposits may also be used.


If your planet is currently post-super continent supply a picture of what your super continent(s) looked like and what its name was.  You’ll attach this to your planet or hand it in separately.

Step Six:

Plate movements and interactions are not the only forces causing the earth’s surface to change.  Weathering in different types of climates and erosion of weathered material by water, wind, ice, has polished the surface of your planet.  How will you demonstrate this in your project?  That’s up to you!


Examples of erosional features to add to your map:

  • a major river fed by small tributaries and ending at a delta in the ocean
  • glacial terminal moraines that have damned up rivers to form large lakes
  • coastal sea stacks, sand bars, or sea caves along a shoreline
  • an island or an archipelago built on glacial moraine (ie. Long Island, Cape Cod)
  • a Grand Canyon carved out by moving water and uplift
  • these are just ideas, let your imagination run wild!



Step Seven:

At this point it’s time to turn your rough draft sketch into a final project.  How will you organize all of this information? 


Making a Final Draft

The final format of this project is up to you.  After you’ve finished with your rough draft sketch you are free to interpret this any way you please.  Several options are discussed in the beginning of this assignment sheet.


What shouldn’t  be on the final map?

  • Lots of arrows, one arrow in the center of the plate showing direction will do!
  • Erased lines, you need to submit your rough draft along with your final map
  • Too much information, for example if a plate boundary is divergent you don’t to label it divergent, normal fault, have arrows, etc. 
  • Wording that is impossible to read, be neat in your presentation, for example don’t use dark lettering on dark backgrounds.
  • Smooth lines, very few of the lines on planet Earth are smooth or rounded.  Even plate boundaries show perpendicular cracks that resemble the stitches on a baseball.  Make your planet look natural.
  • Anything that isn’t properly attached, if you plan to attach props to your planet ensure that they are properly adhered.  No credit will be awarded for lost add-ons.



What Should Your Final Map Look Like?


  • Maps should be the size of poster board or slightly smaller, depending on your supplies
  • Maps can be 2D or 3D (advanced)
  • Maps should include labeled continents, oceans, and plates.
  • All of the features described above should be in your Key and placed appropriately on your map
  • Find a location on your map where "not a lot is going on" to place your Key and your small Species/Fossil Drawings and Descriptions
  • I would also like you to include a small drawing of your "Original Super Continent"
  • Final map should be in full color, neat, organized, and presented in a professional manner (remember this project is in place of a unit test)



  • At least 7 continents with earth-like margins, continents are named
  • Oceans are named and labeled on the map
  • Surface of planet is divided into at least 12 Tectonic Plates.
  • Tectonic Plates are named for nearby oceans or whatever student chooses.
  • Plates show direction of movement with one arrow in the center of the plate.
  • All plate boundaries are analyzed and results drawn on map
  • Normal, Reverse (thrust) and Strike Slip Faults are identified and earthquakes are drawn on map
  • Evidence of super continent clear on planet
  • Map includes a legible key
  • Distribution of 5 fossils/organisms are on map
  • Drawings of the fossils and/or living organisms
  • Drawing of original Super Continent
  • Geologic History written and laid out as Geologic Time Scale
  • Evidence of Erosion
  • What else in the unit can you demonstrate your understanding of?







Resources To Help With Your Project:



Types of Plate Boundaries and the Results of Each


Continental:Oceanic Convergent


Results: Subduction zone, basaltic oceanic crust is more dense than granitic continental crust.  Deep Ocean Trenches, Stratovolcanoes and Volcanic Mts. on Land. ex. Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest US and the Andes Mountains in South America.  Compression, Reverse faulting, strong earthquakes.



Oceanic:Oceanic Convergent


Results: Subduction zone.  Deep Ocean Trenches, Island Arcs, Undersea Volcanism.  ex. Mariana Trench, Japan, Aleutian Islands (Alaska), Phillipines, Sumatra (2004 Tsunami).  Compression, Reverse faulting, strong earthquakes.


Continental:Continental Convergent


Results: Folded Mountains on Land.  ex. Himalayan Mts., the Alps in Europe, the Appalachian Mts. (ancient orogonies or mountain building events) in the Eastern United States.  Compression, Reverse faulting, Strong earthquakes.


Oceanic:Oceanic Divergent

Results:  Mid-Ocean ridges surrounded by new oceanic crust, the newest crust is closest to the rift zone.  Tension, Normal faulting, weak earthquakes.  ex. Mid-Atlantic Ridge, East Pacific Rise.

Continental:Continental Divergent


Results:  Young plate boundaries, rift valleys that may eventually fill with ocean water creating a new ocean and then it becomes an oceanic-oceanic divergent boundary/mid-ocean ridge.  Tension.  Normal faulting, weak earthquakes.  ex. Great Rift Valley Africa, Lake Superior in North America (ancient/dormant rift).


Transform Boundaries


Results:  Moderate Earthquakes on land or on the ocean floor, shearing force.  ex. San Andreas fault (California, USA), North Anatolian fault (Turkey, active), Chaman fault (Pakistan, active), Dead Sea fault (Middle East).









Plate Tectonics Map Project

Earth Space Science


Map is divided into labeled Continents, Oceans, and Tectonic Plates               _______


Student understanding of Plate Tectonics is evident by the placement of specific landforms at appropriate plate boundaries                       


10 species drawings, an organized key, and Super Continent sketch are all included on the map                  _______


Areas of shallow, moderate, and deep earthquakes are correctly placed on the map                                                  


Evidence of past continental arrangements (ex. glacial striations, natural resource deposits) match the original Super Continent map                            


Map is in full color, neat, organized, and presented in a professional manner        




+ = Proficient

√ = Developing

- = Beginning

0 = Absent





Final Grade ____________



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.