Plate Boundaries

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Appearance of a convergent plate boundary
Image Credit: MBG
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Different types of plate boundaries
Image Credit: MBG

Types of Plate Boundaries

Plate boundaries can be categorized in three fundamental types:

(a) Divergent boundaries, where plates separate and move in opposite directions, allowing new lithosphere to form from upwelling magma. This either occurs at mid-ocean  ridges (the so-called seafloor spreading) or at rifted continental margins;

(b) Convergent boundaries, where plates move towards each other. One plate either sinks beneath the other along a subduction zone or plates collide because neither can be subducted; and

(c) Transform fault boundaries, where plates move horizontally past each other.

Based on the three types of plate boundaries, a global network of approximately twelve major plates of irregular shape and size cover the Earth's crust. Where one type of plate boundary is terminated it is transformed into a boundary of a different type.