Plate Tectonics Simulation Lab


      How do convection currents drive plate tectonics? In essence, plate-tectonic theory is elegantly simple. Earth’s surface layer, 50 to 100 km (30 to 60 miles) thick, is rigid and is composed of a set of large and small plates. Together, these plates constitute the lithosphere, from the Greek lithos, meaning “rock.” The lithosphere rests on and slides over an underlying partially molten (and thus weaker but generally denser) layer of plastic partially molten rock known as the asthenosphere, from the Greek asthenos, meaning “weak.” Plate movement is possible because the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary is a zone of detachment. As the lithospheric plates move across Earth’s surface, driven by forces as yet not fully understood, they interact along their boundaries, diverging, converging, or slipping past each other. While the interiors of the plates are presumed to remain essentially unreformed, plate boundaries are the sites of many of the principal processes that shape the terrestrial surface, including earthquakes, volcanism, and orogeny (that is, formation of mountain ranges). The process of plate tectonics may be driven by convection in Earth’s mantle, the pull of heavy old pieces of crust into the mantle, or some combination of both.  Can a simulation be created to show the process of plate tectonics?



Materials: 3-4 / group


2-Quart “Non-Stick” Sauce Pot/Pan – Earth

Hot Plate – Core (heat source)

Milk – Mantle

Container of Coco Powder – Lithosphere (crust + upper mantle)  

1 Cup Measuring Cup





1. Gather all necessary materials as directed.


2. Fill the sauce pan about 1/2 of milk.  


3. Using a measuring cup to measure about 1 cup of coco, sprinkle and cover the milk with the coco powder.


4. Turn on the hot plate.


5. Observe the coco “crust” for about 10-15 minutes and note the continents being formed and moving.


6. After answering the answer sheet, clean up all materials as directed.