Plate Tectonics Lab


The purpose of this assignment is to visibly illustrate the velocity of plate motion using a familiar location (the Hawaiian Island Chain) which has been formed over the past 50 Million Years by a stationary hot spot. You will need a calculator to complete this exercise.This lab exercise should be completed using the free download version of Google Earth Pro, not Google Earth for Chrome. To download Google Earth Pro, go to the following website and select to Download Google Earth Pro on Desktop: Link (Links to an external site.)Open and install Google Earth Pro.Once you have Google Earth Pro installed on your computer, open the following Google Earth file: GVPWorldVolcanoes.kmlComplete the lab exercise found in attached files.

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Determining the Rate of Plate Movement – Examining the Hawaiian Islands in Google Earth
The diagram illustrates the Hawaiian Island volcanic chain. This chain of volcanic islands formed over millions
of years through the processes involved with “Hot Spot” volcanism. As superheated molten rock material rises
upward from deep within the mantle, the magma breaks through weak places in the ocean crust as the Pacific
plate moves over the stationary “Hot Spot” in the mantle. Using this idea, it is possible to calculate the average
speed at which the Pacific plate is moving. The following diagram illustrates the eight main islands of the
Hawaiian chain. The approximate age is given for the larger islands.
1. Open Google Earth. Once the software loads and you see an image of the Earth, close the “Start-Up Tip”
window if one shows up.
2. Click on Tools from the upper most toolbar. From the draw down window, pick “Options.” In the tab
labeled “3D View,” make sure that the Meters/Kilometers radio button is selected. Click Apply and then
OK. (For a Mac, select Preferences from the Google Earth drop down menu).
3. Locate the Hawaiian Islands using Google Earth: type “Hawaii” in the “Search” box.
4. In the “Layers” panel (bottom left panel), deselect “Primary Database.” Then select “Terrain” only.
5. The main controls for moving around on the image are in the upper right of the Google Earth screen. Hover
your cursor over the controls and click on them to see what they do.
6. Look at the bottom ribbon of the image. You will see precise latitude, longitude and elevation
measurements. Move your cursor around the image to see how these measurements respond.
7. Look at the “Eye alt” in the bottom right corner. This is your “Eye altitude” – your exact altitude above the
Earth’s surface. Use the vertical slider (or + and -) to change your Eye altitude. ***NOTE: if your “eye alt”
indicates “0,” make sure that “Terrain” is selected in the Layers Panel.
8. Make sure that you have opened the Google Earth file, Volcanoes of the World, found in the assignment
directions on Canvas.
9. Zoom in to an eye altitude of about 225 km, so that the big island and all of the volcano symbols are in
view. Click on each of the volcano symbols.
a. Which volcano is the oldest? __________________________
b. Which volcano is the youngest? ________________________
10. Evidence of the most recent eruptions and lava flows appear as dark streaks on the volcanoes. As time goes
by, the older lava flows appear greyer in color.
a. Which of the volcanoes shows the most recent evidence of flowing lava? _____________________
11. Which is larger? Everest or Mauna Loa? Search for the following information:
a. What is the elevation of Mauna Loa in meters? _______________________
b. What is the elevation of Mt. Everest in meters? _______________________
c. Zoom out to an eye altitude of about 400km. Notice how much of the island exists below sea level.
Mauna Loa began forming on the seafloor about 1 million years ago and has slowly built up to its
present elevation above sea level.. The true height of Mauna Loa must include the extent of the
volcano below sea level plus what exists above sea level. What is the entire height of Mauna Loa
from the bottom of the ocean to its summit? _______________________
d. So, which mountain is larger? Mauna Loa or Everest?_____________________________
12. What is the name of the youngest Hawaiian volcano? (This is located in the ocean, off the coast of the big
island of Hawaii).
a. Read about this volcano by clicking on the little volcano symbol. How long before this volcano
breaks the sea surface?
13. Using the ruler tool to determine distance. Select the Ruler symbol on the GE ribbon located just about
the image. From the draw down menu, choose centimeters. Measure the distances between the five major
islands using the center point of each island as your starting point. Measure this distance in centimeters
and enter your answers in the appropriate spaces on the following Data Table. To approximate the center of
each island, refer to the map on the front page.
a. You can locate the island by typing the name in the “Search” box in Google Earth.
b. While making your measurements, zoom in as close as possible, with both islands in view, to get the
most accurate measurements.
14. The age of the first 5 islands can be found on the first page of this lab. Calculate the approximate age
differences between the islands and enter the data in the Data Table.
15. Using the following formula, calculate the approximate speed at which the Pacific plate was moving
between the times that each of the islands formed. Enter your data in the Data Table. Your calculated speed
must be in the units of cm/yr.
Speed of Pacific Plate
Movement (cm/yr)
Distance between the two islands (cm)___
Difference in age between the two islands (years)
between the two
islands in cm
Hawaii and Maui
Maui and Molokai
Molokai and Oahu
Oahu and Kauai
Kauai and Laysan
Laysan and
Daikakuji Seamount
Difference in
approximate ages
of the two islands
in years
(see map pg. 1)
Approximate speed of
Pacific plate movement
between the two islands
in cm/yr
24,000,000 years
18,500,000 years
16. Calculate the average speed of Pacific plate movement in cm/yr for the entire volcanic chain.
17. According to your data, did the Pacific plate always move at the same speed? Explain your answer.
18. Watch the following animation which explains how volcanic islands form above a hot spot:

Now look at the entire island chain from Hawaii to the Daikakuji Seamount. In which direction is the
Pacific plate moving? Explain your answer.
19. Use the Search box to locate the Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Watch this video about the formation of an atoll
a. Describe how an atoll forms.
b. Zoom out to an eye altitude at which you can see other atolls along the Hawaiian Island chain.
Locate another atoll and zoom in to get it in view. Turn on (select the box) “Borders and Labels” in
the Layers Panel (bottom left).
1. Name this atoll. ___________________________
2. Would you agree that this will be the ultimate fate of all of the Hawaiian Islands? ________
c. Find a diagram online of the sequence of steps in the formation of an atoll and paste it below.

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