Illustration of how plates move across the spherical Earth featuring the Euler pole and plate boundary end-members.

Illustration of how plates move across the Earth. The motion of (almost) rigid surface portions on a sphere can be described by a rotation around a rotation axis, which cuts the surface at the so-called Euler pole. This relative motion of the plates is mainly accommodated by localised deformation at plate boundaries. Three general types of plate boundaries exist: transform plate boundaries allow the plates to move alongside each other, and convergent and divergent plate boundaries allow for plate destruction and creation, respectively. Transform and divergent plate boundaries are almost straight features, but spreading ridges are generally offset laterally by transform intersections. Subduction zones are usually arcuate (i.e., concave toward the upper plate) due to interaction with mantle flow. Variations of these plate boundaries exist depending on the given combination of upper and lower plate nature (i.e., continental or oceanic).

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