When you look outside your window, you are unlikely to see the Earth moving. We all know the Earth rotates all the way around during the day, and we even know that the Earth performs a revolution around the sun every year. What most are less aware of is the fact that the land itself is moving around during the day. Each continent is on a very, very slow collision course with another mass of land, and this movement is responsible for many of the changes seen on the Earth’s surface over massive periods of time. So with this in mind, how far do the continents move each year?
Once upon a time, all over the seven continents were joined together in one massive super continent called Pangaea. Because of a process known as plate tectonics, this content eventually began to split apart. Landmasses rest on large masses called tectonic plates. These plates are constantly drifting due to a process caused by the convection currents in the Earth’s crust. As each plate moves, it pulls apart from its neighbor or begins to crash in to another plate. When these plates collide, we often experience them as earthquakes. The entire process is actually not very well understood, but scientists do all agree that tectonic movement is a phenomenon that does actually occur.
Back to the question: how far do the continents move each year? The answer varies by continent. The general answer is that tectonic plates only move a few inches per year. North America, for example, is moving slowly along at around two inches a year, as is Europe. The more slowly moving Indian subcontinent, though, is moving slightly less than that. The short answer is the continents are all moving so slowly that it is impossible to actually view the process. In time, though, all of these small movements will result in major changes to the landscape. Just look at the Himalayas, one of the tallest mountain ranges in the world. It is the result of the Indian subcontinent pushing in to the Asian continent, and these massive mountains are still growing inches at a time.
Why are the continents moving? Watch this video!