Home » Geology » Plate Tectonics » 7 Major Tectonic Plates: The World’s Largest Plate Tectonics

7 Major Tectonic Plates: The World’s Largest Plate Tectonics

|
7 major plate tectonics

The World’s Largest Plate Tectonics

Earth has 7 major plate tectonic boundaries and 10 or so minor ones.

Plate tectonics have deceptively slow movement. Just centimeters each year. But they’re never idle.

Like seams of a baseball, tectonic plate boundaries wrap around the Earth.

Earth’s tectonic plate boundaries are unusual because they can consist of continent and ocean crust.

Here are the 7 major tectonic plates of the world in a bit more detail.

1. Pacific Plate

Pacific Plate Tectonic Boundary

The Pacific major plate is the largest which underlies the Pacific Ocean. Specifically, it stretches all the way along the west coast of North America to the east coast of Japan and Indonesia.

This plate forms most of the Pacific Ring of Fire which has some of the most violent and catastrophic earthquakes and volcanoes on the planet.

And smack dab in the middle are the islands that make up Hawaii. The interior hot spot within the Pacific Plate is responsible for the volcanic activity that occurs in the Hawaiian Islands.

2. North American Plate

North American Plate Tectonic Boundary

The North American major plate not only contains the continent of North America but also part of the Atlantic Ocean.

This plate extends all the way over the North pole and even contains Siberia and the northern island of Japan. It also includes Greenland, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

The interior of the North American plate contains a giant granitic craton. It’s believed that the North American (Laurentian) craton is 4 billion years old.

3. Eurasian Plate

Eurasian Plate Tectonic Boundary

The Eurasian major plate consists of most of Europe, Russia, and parts of Asia. This plate is sandwiched between the North American and African Plates on the north and west sides.

The west side has a divergent boundary with the North American plate. The south side of the Eurasian plate neighbors the Arabian, Indian and Sunda plates.

It straddles Iceland where it tears the country into two separate pieces at a rate of 2.5 cm per year. On average, the Eurasian plate moves about one-quarter to half an inch per year.

4. African Plate

African Plate Tectonic Boundary

The African plate contains the whole continent of Africa as well as the surrounding oceanic crust of the Atlantic Ocean. Oddly, it looks like a larger boundary of the African continent, itself.

The Somali Plate is positioned along the East African Rift zone. This developing rift zone is gradually separating the east part of the continent.

The west side of the African major plate diverges from the North American plate. These divergent plate boundaries form the mid-oceanic ridges or rift valleys.

5. Antarctic Plate

Antarctica Plate

The Antarctic plate holds the entire continent of Antarctica including its surrounding oceanic crust. This plate is surrounded by parts of the African, Australian, Pacific, and South American plates.

Antarctica was once grouped as part of the supercontinent Gondwana with Australia and India. But about 100 million years ago, Antarctica broke apart to its current location at the south pole.

It’s estimated that the Antarctica major plate moves about 1 cm per year.

6. Indo-Australia Plate

Indo-Australian Plate

The Indo-Australia plate is a major plate combining the Australian and Indian Plates. But they are widely considered to be two separate plates.

The Indo-Australia plate stretches from Australia to India. It also includes the oceanic crust of the Indian Ocean. The northeast side of the Australian plate converges with the Pacific Plate.

Australia, India, and Antarctica were once connected as the supercontinent Gondwana. As part of the supercontinental cycle, India drifted apart moving northwards.

7. South American Plate

South American Plate

The South American plate is a major plate that includes the continent of South America and a large portion of the ocean from the Atlantic Ocean.

On the west side of South America, it experiences devastating earthquakes due to the convergent plate tectonic boundaries.

But the eastern edge lies in the Atlantic Ocean at a divergent plate boundary. Alongside the African Plate, these two plate boundaries pull apart from each other creating some of the youngest oceanic crust on the planet.

What’s the size of the 7 major tectonic plates?

Major Plate NameContinents and OceansSize (km2)
Pacific PlatePacific Ocean102,900,000
North American PlateUnited States, Canada, Arctic Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean75,900,000
Eurasian PlateEurope, Russia, and Asia67,800,000
African PlateAfrica and the Atlantic Ocean61,300,000
Antarctic PlateAntarctica60,900,000
Indo-Australia PlateAustralia, India, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean58,900,000
South American PlateSouth America and the Atlantic Ocean43,600,000

The 7 Major Tectonic Plates

The earth’s crust is divided into plates that are made up of the original rocks of the planet. These plates can be subducted, colliding, or sliding beside each other as they move around the earth. There are a total of seven major tectonic plates that make up our planet.

If you are interested in learning more about the major tectonic plates, then check out the universities that offer online courses on the subject.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us below and we’ll try out best to answer them.

26 Comments

  1. 2022 maps have an Indian Plate and an Australian Plate as completely separate plates. Has this separation of Indo-Australia plate into two different plates been widely acknowledged?

  2. I would be interested on your opinion and information on the relationship between plate movements and how they are affected by gravitational influences (moon, planet and sun interactions)

  3. This was very helpful information. It really helped me on my assignment. I now understand a big portion of plate tectonics!

  4. They are made up of the oceanic crust and continental crust. The world atlas has African, Antarctica, Eurasian, Indo-Australian, North America, Pacific, and South America.

  5. Thanks. I used to think African plate was the second and north American the third. I also used to think that Africa was the last remains of the ancient Gondwana. Do you believe that Zelandria should be included as number 8 or just be left out?

  6. African
    Antarctic
    Arabian
    Australian
    Caribbean
    Cocos
    Eurasian
    Indian
    Juan de Fuca
    Nazca
    North American
    Pacific
    Philippine
    Scotia
    South American

  7. I found it very helpful… I used this information to teach my year seven class

  8. Been looking at 100s of images, EarthHow has by far the best in clarity and detail, THANKS!

  9. Please try next to put a key, so one can differentiate between the different types of plates. But it’s cool though

  10. Hi I am also a student studying physical geography of the earth at the university of Goroka, and I am very much interested in knowing more about how plates move. Thank you

  11. I would like to ask permission from the author if I can use the information above in my science class. Thank you very much.

  12. Hi I was wondering how the plates completely work in FULL detail. I was wondering if you could provide me with this. Thank you.

  13. For the South American Plate, I think there is a typo and suggest that you should change ‘South Africa’ to ‘South America’
    Thank you!

  14. Hi Cody. I use a GIS program to create these images. Some of the best software are QGIS and ArcGIS.

    For the data, you can find a web service using this open data hub. http://hub.arcgis.com/pages/open-data

    Just perform a search for plate tectonics. USGS is one of the authority sites you’ll find in your search query. I suggest to use that one for your class project.

  15. Hi I am studying tectonic plates for my year 7 Maths assignment. I would like more information on mapping the plates and to find out how I can map and calculate these plates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.