Introduction to Faults and Plate Tectonics


  • Activity
  • Normal Fault - Paper Model
  • Reverse (Thrust) Fault - Paper Model
  • Right-Lateral Strike-Slip Fault - Paper Model
  • Left-Lateral Strike-Slip Fault - Paper Model
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An Activity about Forces, Faults, and Friction

This interactive activity provides three options to demonstrate the geometry of faults (normal, reverse, and strike-slip) and fault displacements with 3-D models. A 5-minute option provides several interactive demonstrations that introduce the concepts of forces, stress and strain. Building on this introduction, a 15-minute option allows learners to manipulate fault models to explore different types of faults that result from the forces presented. In the 30-minute version, the learners apply previous learning experiences to solve geologic puzzles presented in images of faults at local and regional scales.

Why is it important to learn about forces, faults and plate tectonics? More than 143 million people are exposed to potential earthquake hazards in the U.S. that could cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage. An understanding of these concepts is fundamental to mitigating earthquake hazards. An important tool for mitigation is the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the U. S. which detects significant earthquakes quickly so that alerts can be delivered to people and automated systems.


Learners will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the forces, stress and strain that result in particular fault motions
  • Explain the geometry of faults (normal, reverse, and strike-slip) and fault displacements with 3-D fault models
  • Describe how the three types of faults are related to the different types of plate motions (divergent, convergent, and transform)