Updated maps of the tectonic plates

Tectonic Plates 2022

New tectonic plate model with fringes in dark shading. Photo credit: Dr. Derrick Hasterok, University of Adelaide

New models showing how the continents were put together provide new insights into the history of the earth and help to better understand natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

“We looked at the current knowledge about the configuration of the plate boundaries and the ancient structure of the continental crust,” said Dr. Derrick Hasterok, a lecturer in the University of Adelaide’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the team that created the new models.

“The continents were put together piece by piece, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, but each time the puzzle was completed it was cut up and rearranged to create a new picture. Our study helps shed light on the various components so geologists can piece together the previous images.

“We found that plate margins make up nearly 16 percent of the Earth’s crust and an even higher proportion, 27 percent, of the continents.”

“Our new tectonic plate model better explains the spatial distribution of 90 percent of earthquakes and 80 percent of volcanoes over the past two million years, while existing models only capture 65 percent of earthquakes.”

dr Derrick Hasterok, Lecturer, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Adelaide


New models showing the architecture of the earth. Photo credit: Dr. Derrick Hasterok, University of Adelaide

The team created three new geological models: a plate model, a provincial model and an orogeny model.

“There are 26 orogenies—the process of mountain building—that have shaped the current architecture of the crust. Many of these, but not all, are related to the formation of supercontinents,” said Dr. Hasterok.

“Our work allows us to update maps of tectonic plates and continent formation found in textbooks. These plate models, assembled from topographic models and global seismicity, have not been updated since 2003.”

The new plate model includes several new microplates, including the Macquarie microplate, located south of Tasmania, and the Capricorn microplate, which separates the Indian and Australian plates.

“To further enrich the model, we added more detailed information about the boundaries of the deformation zones: previous models showed these as discrete areas rather than broad zones,” said Dr. Hasterok.

“The greatest changes to the plate model occurred in western North America, where the boundary with the Pacific Plate was often drawn as the San Andreas and Queen Charlotte faults. But the newly demarcated border is much wider, about 1500 km, than the previously drawn narrow zone.

“The other big change is happening in Central Asia. The new model now includes all deformation zones north of India as the plate makes its way into Eurasia.”


A story told by the continents. Photo credit: Dr. Derrick Hasterok, University of Adelaide

Published in the magazine Geography reviewsthe team’s work provides a more accurate representation of Earth’s architecture and has other important applications.

“Our new tectonic plate model better explains the spatial distribution of 90 percent of earthquakes and 80 percent of volcanoes over the past two million years, while existing models only capture 65 percent of earthquakes,” said Dr. Hasterok.

“The plate model can be used to improve models of geohazard risks; The orogeny model helps to understand the geodynamic systems and better model the evolution of the Earth, and the provincial model can be used to improve mineral exploration.”

Reference: “New Maps of Global Geological Provinces and Tectonic Plates” by Derrick Hasterok, Jacqueline A. Halpin, Alan S. Collins, Martin Hand, Corné Kreemer, Matthew G. Gard and Stijn Glorie, 31 May 2022, Geography reviews.
DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2022.104069

The work involved researchers from the Universities of Adelaide, Tasmania, Nevada-Reno and Geoscience Australia.