Velocities relative to cratonic North America determined from displacements of Plate Boundary Observatory GPS sites

Velocities relative to cratonic North America determined from displacements of Plate Boundary Observatory GPS sites. Graphic from UNAVCO via

Some resources associated with the "50 Years of Plate Tectonics" symposium

Vince Cronin, Geosciences Department, Baylor University (

Vince Cronin's website:

Revised 14 June 2018

"50 Years of Plate Tectonics" symposium webpage:

Presentation file

Poster file (Adobe Acrobat PDF file): (45.3 MB)

A half-century after the revolution, what should we teach current undergraduate geoscientists about lithospheric motion?

Vincent S. Cronin, Geosciences, Baylor University, Waco, Texas,;
Richard G. Gordon, Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Rice University, Houston, Texas,;
Phillip G. Resor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut,; and
Joshua R. Davis, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota,


Plate tectonics is a synthesis that combines a host of geological and geophysical data by means of a kinematic model of the motion of lithospheric plates. This symposium honors the major events of half a century past that led to the broad acceptance of plate tectonics as a better context for understanding global change over most of Earth's history. Since that first generation of plate-tectonic ideas, significant advances have accumulated in the diversity, quality, and volume of relevant data, in parallel with significant advances in the availability and power of computer resources at all levels of science and education. As more information has been gathered, details of the motions of Earth's lithosphere and associated geological consequences have continued to become ever more interesting and useful.

The typical undergraduate geoscience students of today were not alive during the birth of modern plate tectonics in the 1960s and early 1970s, and neither were many of their parents. Our collective impression (based on decades of teaching courses in tectonics, structural geology, physical geology, and mathematics) is that current students enjoy hearing stories about the geological consequences of "the motion of plates," but lack the knowledge or skills needed to develop virtually any quantitative description of lithospheric motion. Their understanding is largely based on qualitative descriptions of first-generation ideas of plate tectonics offered in introductory textbooks or literature syntheses. The capacity to glean useful quantitative information about lithospheric motions from GNSS data and other relevant kinematic observations is a fundamental ability for modern geoscientists to develop, requiring a functional knowledge of certain basic mathematical techniques and computer skills.

How should geoscience educators facilitate student learning so that members of the next generation of geoscientists are able to advance our understanding of lithospheric dynamics and kinematics? First, we must embrace our responsibility to help our students develop quantitative skills rather than limit ourselves to telling qualitative stories. Just as plate tectonics provides a useful context for understanding global change, it can also provide a useful focus for undergraduate geoscientists to learn about mathematics, statistics, and computer coding -- fundamental skills that will be useful throughout their careers. As a group of hopeful idealists with expertise in lithospheric kinematics, geoscience education, and quantitative methods, we intend to develop curricular resources during the next few years that will help guide undergraduate geoscience students to a practical working knowledge of lithospheric kinematics.

Other resources related to lithospheric kinematics

Vince Cronin's web resources

Vince Cronin's publications related to lithospheric kinematics

Papers (Stratigraphic order, most recent on top)

Abstracts (Stratigraphic order, most recent on top)

This is not a static resource, so please send your suggestions for additional resources to Vince Cronin via

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