Tectonic Landforms

Find Your Park illustration of 2 hikers on a mountain top, text "see the power of tectonic plates"
We live on a layer of Earth known as the lithosphere which is a collection of rigid slabs that are shifting and sliding into each other. These slabs are called tectonic plates and fit together like pieces to a puzzle. The shifts and movements of these plates is what helps shape our landscape by forming mountain ranges, transforming the ocean floor, and shaping lands near plate boundaries.

For more in depth information, visit the Earth Science Concepts page for Plate Tectonics.

Geological Monitoring

Loading results...

    Photo Gallery

    fault block valley

    Tectonic Landforms

    flickr album


    Tectonic Landforms in Parks

    Below you will find a list of parks that share in common geologic themes based on similar plate tectonic settings.

    block diagram of horst and graben

    Divergent Plate Boundaries

    Continental Rifts - Active

    Basin and Range
    • Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Great Basin National Park, Nevada—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Saguaro National Park, Arizona—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Devils Postpile National Monument, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Joshua Tree National Park, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona & Nevada—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Lava Beds National Monument, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    Rio Grand Rift

    Continental Rifts - Ancient

    Keweenawan Rift
    • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Grand Portage National Monument, Minnesota—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, Minnesota & Wisconsin—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Passive Continental Margins

    Atlantic Coast
    • Acadia National Park, Maine—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Biscayne National Park, Florida—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland & Virginia—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Canaveral National Seashore, Florida—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Fire Island National Seashore, New York—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Gateway National Recreation Area, New York & New Jersey—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    Gulf Coast
    • Everglades National Park, Florida—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida & Mississippi—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve, Louisiana—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Padre Island National Seashore, Texas—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    diagram of convergent plates

    Convergent Plate Boundaries

    Ocean-Ocean Subduction Zones

    Alaska Peninsula

    • Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Western Pacific

    • National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Collisional Mountain Ranges

    Appalachain Mountains

    • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Georgia to Maine—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia & North Carolina—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Bluestone National Scenic River, West Virginia—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, North Carolina & Tennessee—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Gauley River National Recreation Area, West Virginia—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Obed Wild and Scenic River, Tennessee—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Russell Cave National Monument, Alabama—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Ouachita Mountains

    Marathon Mountains

    • Big Bend National Park, Texas—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Rio Grand Wild and Scenic River, Texas—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Brooks Range

    • Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Noatak National Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Ocean-Continent Subduction Zone

    Active Volcanic Arc - Cascades

    Active Volcanic Arc - Alaska

    • Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    • Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Ancient Arc - Sierra Nevada Mountains

    Accretionary Wedge - Coast Ranges

    Low-Angle Subduction - Laramide Uplifts

    block diagram of transform fault

    Transform Plate Boundaries

    Continental

    San Andreas Fault

    • Channel Islands National Park, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Cabrillo National Monument, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Joshua Tree National Park, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Muir Woods National Monument, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Pinnacles National Monument, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Point Reyes National Seashore, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Oceanic

    Caribbean
    diagram of a hotspot

    Hot Spots

    Continental

    Yellowstone
    • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho & Montana—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]

    Oceanic

    Hawaii - Emperor
    diagram of accreted terrains

    Accreted Terrains

    North American Cordillera

    Alaska
    • Denali National Park, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    Pacific Northwest
    • North Cascades National Park, Washington—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    • Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Washington—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
    Parks and Plates cover
    Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores. Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
    W.W. Norton and Company.
    ISBN 0-393-92407-6
    9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout


    Ever have questions about the fascinating natural dynamics working in our national parks? This book aims to provide answers to some of them. The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

    Tools

    • Site Index