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How fast do tectonic plates move?

A good approximation used by geologists is that the plates move roughly the same speed as your nails grow. However, tectonic plates move at different speeds and in different directions. We can measure crustal motion using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that measure within a fraction of a millimeter per year. We can also estimate velocities over the span of geologic time using rocks in ocean floors that preserve records of Earth’s magnetic reversals. If scientists know the approximate duration of the reversal, they can calculate the average rate of plate movement during a given time span.

The map This Dynamic Planet uses data from Rice University Global Tectonics to show average plate motion and direction with arrows. The university also has a plate motion calculator that gives the rate of movement and direction for any latitude/longitude point.

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