Plate Tectonics

Undergraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content


The Earth's outer part is composed of a limited number of rigid plates that move relative to one another along dynamic active edges. The goal of the course is to give an overview of the physical forces that control mantle convection, and its dynamical interaction with the plates. The students will get an in-depth knowledge about the geological processes that control oceanic spreading, rifting of continents, continent collision zones, mountain belt formation, subduction zones and lateral shear zones. The course will also be an opportunity to discuss the interaction between plate tectonics and mantle plumes, or to explore the plate tectonic situation in other telluric planets.


The course is divided in two parts. Part 1 introduces the most important elements of global plate tectonics and the interaction between its controlling physical forces. During this part, a short introduction of geochemical principles is giving students a new tool to study various geological processes linked to plate tectonic; from the formation of the oceanic crust to its subduction under volcanic arc. Part 2 introduces other important factors that control plate tectonics, like heat flow, rock strength, different deformation styles and different models for continental rifting. The evolution of the North Atlantic is discussed in detail, from subduction, via continental rifting, to formation of oceanic crust along the mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Learning Outcomes


The student

  • can describe the characteristics of the plates forming the outer shell of the Earth
  • can discuss the most important geological processes occurring where the plates interact; both along convergent, divergent and mass-conserving boundaries
  • can explain the geochemical differences between rocks formed at oceanic spreading ridges, intraplate volcanoes and subduction zones
  • can discuss the main reasons for the absence of significant ongoing plate tectonic in our neighboring planets in the solar system
  • can discuss the most important factors linking mantle convection and plate tectonics; such as heat-flow, rock strength, deformation mechanisms, rock crystallization
  • can discuss the Paleozoic to present geological evolution of the North Atlantic, with focus on the interplay between tectonics and magmatism during continental rifting and oceanic accretion


The student

  • can interpret general rock types from geophysical models
  • can identify and discuss geological processes and evolution from geophysical models
  • can perform simple quantitative analyses; like plate velocity, magma production rate
  • can perform simple search for relevant geoscientific literature, and refer to these correctly
  • can identify possible scientific paradigm differences between the plate tectonic versus mantle plume school of thoughts
  • can recognize various plate tectonic related features on bathymetric maps

General competence

The student

  • can use a precise geoscientific language when linking various geological processes to plate tectonics
  • can acknowledge and communicate mankind┬┐s dependence on plate tectonic processes
  • has acquired general working knowledge of plate tectonic physical processes applicable to other scientific disciplines
  • can critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of geophysical models and how these are interpreted geologically
  • has demonstrated competence in scientific ethics and the ability to work independently and as part of a team

Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Required Previous Knowledge
Teaching and learning methods

Part I (6 weeks) - Lectures, 4 hours/week

Part II (6 weeks) - Lectures and e-modules, 4 hours/week

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
The students must complete and hand in two problem sets (one for each part of the course) in order to be allowed to take the final exam. These problem sets are only valid for the semester when the course is taught and the following semester (for the repeat exam in the spring).
Forms of Assessment
  • Problem sets, 40% of total grade.
  • Written examination (4 hours), 60% of total grade.
  • Grading Scale
    The grading scale used is A to F. Grade A is the highest passing grade in the grading scale, grade F is a fail.
    Assessment Semester
    Examination both spring semester and autumn semester. In semesters without teaching the examination will be arranged at the beginning of the semester.
    Reading List
    The reading list will be available within June 1st for the autumn semester and December 1st for the spring semester.
    Course Evaluation
    The course will be evaluated by the students in accordance with the quality assurance system at UiB and the department
    Examination Support Material
    Non-programmable calculator, according to the faculty regulations
    Programme Committee
    The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses.
    Course Coordinator
    The course coordinator and administrative contact person is found at Mitt UiB, or you may contact
    Course Administrator
    The Faculty for Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Department of Earth Science has the administrative responsibility for the course and program