Plate Tectonics
Plate tectonics is the theory that the earth's lithosphere is broken into large, rigid sections or plates that move horizontally across the earth. The movement of these plates can affect the earth's climate in many ways:

  • by changing the distribution of the continents between the poles and equator--average temperature increases as a landmass moves toward the equator
  • by lifting up landmasses (mountain-building)--average temperature decreases as the altitude of a landmass increases
  • by the release of greenhouse gases and dust particles during seafloor spreading and the eruption of volcanoes--greenhouse gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) may lead to temperature increases, while dust particles may increase cloudiness and lead to temperature decreases.

Image of a volcano in Paricutin, Mexico in 1943.

Photo: Volcano in Paricutin, Mexico in 1943. Photo courtesy of NGDC/NOAA.

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