Explainer: Earth’s Tectonic Plates
It’s widely understood that Earth’s lithosphere (or outer crust) is made up of moving slabs of rock, better known as the tectonic plates.
These plates only move a couple of inches each year. However, these tiny movements add up over time and cause some of Earth’s most well-known phenomena. Today, the Earth looks a lot different than it did millions of years ago.
This graphic by Giulia De Amicis provides a brief explanation of plate tectonic theory and shows a map of the seven major plates.
Plate Tectonic Theory
In the early 20th century, German geologist Alfred Wegener published a paper on his theory called continental drift—a hypothesis that Earth’s continents were moving across Earth, and sometimes, even colliding into one another.
According to Wegener’s theory, Earth’s continents were once joined as a single, giant landmass, which he called Pangaea. But over time, Pangaea broke apart and formed the continents as we know them today.
Wegener couldn’t explain why this phenomenon was happening, so at the time, his theory was heavily criticized by his colleagues. But over the years, technological advances allowed scientists to study the Earth more closely, and geologists started to build on Wegener’s theory.
Discoveries like seafloor spreading helped explain the “why” behind continental movement, and eventually, Wegener’s initial continental drift theory morphed into plate tectonic theory. And now, the idea that Earth’s crust is slowly moving beneath our feet is widely accepted.
The Seven Major Tectonic Plates
There are seven major plates, and dozens of minor plates, that make up the outer crust of the Earth. The big seven are:
- North American plate
- Eurasian plate
- Pacific plate
- South American plate
- African plate
- Indo-Australian plate
- Antarctic plate
The areas between these plates are known as plate boundaries, and their interactions cause some crazy things to happen on Earth’s surface. There are three types of plate boundaries:
1. Divergent boundary
A divergent boundary is when two plates move away from each other, which creates a fracture in the lithosphere.
A well-known divergent boundary is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs approximately 10,000 miles from the Arctic Ocean all the way down to the south of Africa.
2. Convergent boundary
A convergent boundary is when two plates collide with one another.
If the collision is between oceanic crust and continental crust, the denser oceanic crust slides underneath the other plate, which is a process known as subduction.
When two continental crusts collide, the rock folds and lifts at the boundary, creating mountains like the Himalayas (where the Indian plate meets the Eurasian plate).
3. Transform Boundary
When two plates move parallel to one another, their meeting point is called a transform boundary.
The friction causes tension. Eventually, that tension needs to be released, which can cause earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault is a well-known major transform boundary between the North American and Pacific plates—it caused the infamous San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.
“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:
- Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
- Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
- Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
- Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
- Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.
The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.
From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.
Which are the Best Universities in America?
At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.
Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.
|1||Princeton University||New Jersey||$59,710|
|7||Duke University||North Carolina||$66,172|
|9||Brown University||Rhode Island||$68,230|
|12||Columbia University||New York||$65,524|
|12||Cornell University||New York||$66,014|
|12||University of Chicago||Illinois||$65,619|
|18||Dartmouth College||New Hampshire||$65,511|
|20||University of Notre Dame||Indiana||$62,693|
Michigan, Ann Arbor
|22||Georgetown University||Washington, DC||$65,082|
|22||University of North|
Carolina at Chapel Hill
|North Carolina||$39,338 (out-state)
|24||Carnegie Mellon University||Pennsylvania||$63,829|
|24||University of Virginia||Virginia||$58,950 (out-state)
University, St. Louis
California, San Diego
|28||University of Florida||Florida||$28,658 (out-state)
|35||New York University||New York||$60,438|
|35||University of Illinois|
|New Jersey||$36,001 (out-state)
|40||University of Washington||Washington||$41,997 (out-state)
|43||The Ohio State University||Ohio||$36,722 (out-state)
|47||Texas A&M University||Texas||$40,607 (out-state)
|47||University of Georgia||Georgia||$30,220 (out-state)
|47||University of Rochester||New York||$64,384|
|47||Virginia Tech||Virginia||$36,090 (out-state)
|47||Wake Forest University||North Carolina||$64,758|
|53||Florida State University||Florida||$21,683 (out-state)
|53||William & Mary||Virginia||$48,841 (out-state)
MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.
Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.
For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.
As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.
However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.
Best University versus Best “Fit”
Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.
Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.
In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.
Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.
However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.
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