Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-tn8tq Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-23T19:17:19.661Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

7 - Next-generation plate-tectonic reconstructions using GPlates

from Part II - Modeling software and community codes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 October 2011

James A. Boyden
University of Sydney
R. Dietmar Müller
University of Sydney
Michael Gurnis
California Institute of Technology
Trond H. Torsvik
University of Oslo
James A. Clark
University of Sydney
Mark Turner
California Institute of Technology
Hamish Ivey-Law
Université de la Méditerannée Aix-Marseille II
Robin J. Watson
Norwegian Geological Survey
John S. Cannon
University of Sydney
G. Randy Keller
University of Oklahoma
Chaitanya Baru
University of California, San Diego
Get access



Plate tectonics is the kinematic theory that describes the large-scale motions and events of the outermost shell of the solid Earth in terms of the relative motions and interactions of large, rigid, interlocking fragments of lithosphere called tectonic plates. Plates form and disappear incrementally over time as a result of tectonic processes. There are currently about a dozen major plates on the surface of the Earth, and many minor ones. The present-day configuration of tectonic plates is illustrated inFigure 7.1. As the interlocking plates move relative to each other, they interact at plate boundaries, where adjacent plates collide, diverge, or slide past each other. The interactions of plates result in a variety of observable surface phenomena, including the occurrence of earthquakes and the formation of large-scale surface features such as mountains, sedimentary basins, volcanoes, island arcs, and deep ocean trenches. In turn, the appearance of these phenomena and surface features indicates the location of plate boundaries. For a detailed review of the theory of plate tectonics, consult Wessel and Müller (2007).

A plate-tectonic reconstruction is the calculation of positions and orientations of tectonic plates at an instant in the history of the Earth. The visualization of reconstructions is a valuable tool for understanding the evolution of the systems and processes of the Earth's surface and near subsurface. Geological and geophysical features may be “embedded” in the simulated plates, to be reconstructed along with the plates, enabling a researcher to trace the motions of these features through time.

Cyberinfrastructure for the Solid Earth Sciences
, pp. 95 - 114
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Altmann, S. (1986). Rotations, Quaternions and Double Groups. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Beatty, M. F. (1986). Principles of Engineering Mechanics. New York: Springer, 595pp.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cox, A. and Hart, R. B. (1986). Plate Tectonics: How It Works. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.Google Scholar
Cox, S. J. D. and Richard, S. M. (2005). A formal model for the geologic time scale and global stratotype section and point, compatible with geospatial transfer standards. Geosphere, 1: 119–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cox, S. J. D., Daisey, P., Lake, R., Portele, C., and Whiteside, A., eds. (2004). OpenGIS Implementation Specification #03–105r1: OpenGIS Geography Markup Language (GML) Implementation Specification, version 3.1.1. February 2004.
Greiner, B. (1999). Euler rotations in plate-tectonic reconstructions. Computers & Geosciences, 25(3): 209–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gurnis, M., Turner, M., Zahirovic, al. (2010). Plate reconstructions with continuously closing plates. Computers and Geosciences, in review.
Hellinger, S. J. (1981). The uncertainties of finite rotations in plate tectonics. Journal of Geophysical Research, 86: 9312–9318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herold, N., Seton, M., Müller, R. D., You, Y., and Huber, M. (2008). Middle Miocene tectonic boundary conditions for use in climate models. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 9, Q10009, doi:10.1029/2008GC002046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herold, N., You, Y., Müller, R. D., and Sdrolias, M. (2009). Climate model sensitivity to changes in Miocene paleo-topography. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 56(8): 1049–1059.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kearey, P. and Vine, F. J. (1990). Global Tectonics. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.Google Scholar
Lake, R., Burggraf, D. S., Trninić, M., and Rae, L. (2004). Geography Markup Language: Foundation for the Geo-Web. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
Lake, R. (2005). The application of geography markup language (GML) to the geological sciences. Computers & Geosciences, 31(9): 1081–1094.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lee, Y. T. (1999). Information Modeling: From Design to Implementation. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Available at, last accessed 2009–04–08.
Liu, L. J., Spasojevic, S., and Gurnis, M. (2008), Reconstructing Farallon plate subduction beneath North America back to the Late Cretaceous. Science, 322: 934–938.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Müller, R. D., Sdrolias, M., Gaina, C., and Roest, W. R. (2008). Age, spreading rates and spreading asymmetry of the world's ocean crust. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 9(4): 1–19, doi:10.1029/2007GC001743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O'Neill, C. J., Müller, R. D., and Steinberger, B. (2005). On the uncertainties in hotspot reconstructions, and the significance of moving hotspot reference frames. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 6: doi:10.1029/2004GC000784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ross, M. I. and Scotese, C. R. (1988). A hierarchical tectonic model for the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region. Tectonophysics, 155: 139–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schettino, A. (1999). Polygon intersections in spherical topology: Application to plate tectonics. Computers & Geosciences, 25(1): 61–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sen, M. and Duffy, T. (2005). GeoSciML: Development of a generic GeoScience Markup Language. Computers & Geosciences, 3(9): 1095–1103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shneiderman, B. (1983). Direct manipulation: A step beyond programming languages. IEEE Computer, 16(8): 57–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spasojevic, S., Liu, L., and Gurnis, M. (2009). Adjoint models of mantle convection with seismic, plate motion and stratigraphic constraints: North America since the Late Cretaceous. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 10, Q05W02, doi:10.1029/2008GC002345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steinberger, B. (2007). Effects of latent heat release at phase boundaries on flow in the Earth's mantle: Phase boundary topography and dynamic topography at the Earth's surface. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 164: 2–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Torsvik, T. H. and Smethurst, M. A. (1999). Plate tectonic modelling: virtual reality with GMAP. Computers & Geosciences, 25(4): 395–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Voo, R. (1993). Paleomagnetism of the Atlantic, Tethys and Iapetus Oceans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Vretanos, A. P., ed. (2005). OpenGIS Implementation Specification #04-094r1: Web Feature Service Implementation Specification, version 1.1.0. May 2005.
Wessel, P. and Müller, R. D. (2007). Plate tectonics. In Treatise on Geophysics. Vol. 6. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 49–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhang, C., Peng, Z. R., Li, W., and Day, M. J. (2003). GML-based interoperable geographical databases. Available at

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats