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.

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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 Rio Grand Rift

Continental Rifts - Ancient

Keweenawan Rift

Passive Continental Margins

Atlantic Coast Gulf Coast
diagram of convergent plates

Convergent Plate Boundaries

Ocean-Ocean Subduction Zones

Alaska Peninsula

Western Pacific

Collisional Mountain Ranges

Appalachain Mountains

Ouachita Mountains

Marathon Mountains

Brooks Range

Ocean-Continent Subduction Zone

Active Volcanic Arc - Cascades

Active Volcanic Arc - Alaska

Ancient Arc - Sierra Nevada Mountains

Accretionary Wedge - Coast Ranges

Low-Angle Subduction - Laramide Uplifts

block diagram of transform fault

Transform Plate Boundaries


San Andreas Fault


diagram of a hotspot

Hot Spots




Hawaii - Emperor
diagram of accreted terrains

Accreted Terrains

North American Cordillera

Alaska Pacific Northwest

Photo Gallery

fault block valley

Tectonic Landforms

flickr album

Geological Monitoring

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    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!

    Last updated: August 28, 2018


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