Vince/ PlateKinematics/ KinematicsCourse/

A course on the kinematics of the lithosphere and continental crust

This course is taught by Professor Vince Cronin


This course will consider the kinematics of the lithosphere and continental crust. My immediate goal is for all of the participants to be able to successfully perform a series of quantitative tasks related to plate/crustal kinematics. This will entail some vector math that includes matrix math. It is assumed that students have access to a computer (whether personal or Baylor-owned) that is connected to the web and that has a working copy of Mathematica version 9 or 10 and Microsoft Excel ± MatLab .

Dr. Cronin does not assume that students have math background in excess of the national standards for high school mathematics; however, this is an upper-level undergraduate-to-graduate science course, and science is a quantitative endeavor. Dr. Cronin will teach the basic math needed to do the work, and will demonstrate some Mathematica programming skills. Fuller development of Mathematica skills is up to each student, who can utilize publications and on-line tutorials/information produced by Wolfram Research ( and ).

A number of university nerds have created online resources for learning about Mathematica including the following:
and other resources that you can find by "googling" the words Mathematica tutorial .

In addition to demonstrating proficiency in generating correct answers using Mathematica code that they have written, students will be required to complete a study of an area (approved in advance) that incorporates the quantitative techniques developed in this course. A fuller discussion of grading will be provided in a future edition of this document.

This is not primarily intended to be a course on the history of the development of plate tectonics, which is a very interesting topic that is well covered in several of the references listed below. We will cover the most important early developments of plate kinematics, to supply historical context and to give credit where credit is due. It is also not meant to be a survey of current understanding of the tectonic context of plate boundaries worldwide. It is also not a course in geodynamics: the physics of the mechanisms of plate tectonics.


There are several different types of assignments in this course. The running assignment of describing the fundamental contributions to plate kinematics by certain individuals is to be compiled as we move through the semester, and is due for final grading purposes at the end of the semester. Dr. Cronin might ask to see the current state of this document at any time. Other assignments have specified due dates.

  1. Summaries of some fundamental contributions and those who made them
  2. Reading assignments
  3. Mathematica assignments
  4. Term assignment describing a particular plate boundary plus-or-minus a few tens of Myr (see below)

Final Project

Basemaps from GeoMapApp , including basemaps with points along the boundary as identified by Bird (2003) .

The final project is due on or before the last class day of the spring 2017 semester, and must include the following:

(A) A working Mathematica code that computes the instantaneous tangential velocity of a point on one plate as observed from

  1. another adjacent plate (DeMets et al., 2010), and
  2. an external reference frame ( e.g. , NNR or a hotspot reference frame; Argus et al., 2011; Gripp et al., 2012)

You should demonstrate the results of this code using a point along the plate boundary that you studied.

(B) A working Mathematica code that computes the future finite motion of a set of points on a plate as observed from another plate. Dr. Cronin will provide a template for that code.

(C) A working Mathematica code with graphics that shows the evolution of part of a plate boundary from at least 5 Myr in the past to 5 Myr in the future in at least three steps (-5 Myr, today, +5 Myr). Dr. Cronin has provided a template for that code.

Each of these Mathematica codes should have a conventional structure (title, author, introduction in which the purpose of the code is described, user-defined functions, input data, computation, output, references) with sufficient text descriptions embedded in the notebook so that you will be able to understand how the code works when you are old and gray.

(D) Finally, you need to tell the rest of the class about what you did, using a method that you are comfortable with: a written paper, a poster (no bigger than 36" x 44"), or an an oral presentation using a PowerPoint or Keynote file with accompanying notes. The presentation must include the following:

  1. A title and your name
  2. An introduction
  3. An account of why this boundary is interesting or significant, and why you chose it.
  4. Accurate indications of the instantaneous tangential velocity of one plate as observed from the other plate, of at least two points along the plate boundary
  5. Maps derived from actual calculations that show the evolution of the plate boundary at (at least) 10 Myr bp to today to 10 Myr in the future.
  6. Some concluding observations -- what did you learn in modeling the evolution of the boundary
  7. References

Draft textbook: A primer on the kinematics of the lithosphere and continental crust

All of the original content in the documents directly accessible via this web page, including the content of the draft textbook, is © 2017 by Vincent S. Cronin

The draft textbook is available via

Assigned Reading, In Assignment Order

Please note that this list will grow throughout the semester

  1. Bullard, E.C., Everett, J.E., and Smith, A.G., 1965, The fit of the continents around the Atlantic, in Blackett, P.M.S., Bullard, E.C., and Runcorn, S.K., [editors], A symposium on continental drift: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, series A, v. 258, p. 41-51.
  2. Le Pichon, X., 1991, Introduction to the publication of the extended outline of Jason Morgan's April 17, 1967 American Geophysical Union paper on "Rises, trenches, great faults and crustal blocks," in Hilde, T.W.C., and Carlson, R.L., [editors], Proceedings of the 1987 Geodynamics Symposium: Tectonophysics, v. 187, p. 1-22
  3. Morgan, W.J., 1968, Rises, trenches, great faults, and crustal blocks: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 73, p. 1959-1982.
  4. McKenzie, D.P., and Parker, R.L., 1967, The north Pacific -- An example of tectonics on a sphere: Nature, v. 216, p. 1276-1280.
  5. Le Pichon, X., 1968, Sea-floor spreading and continental drift: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 73, p. 3661-3697.
  6. Le Pichon, X., 1970, Correction to paper by Xavier Le Pichon "Sea-floor spreading and continental drift": Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 75, p. 2793.
  7. Heirtzler, J.R., Dickson, G.O., Herron, E.M., Pitman, W.C., III, and Le Pichon, X., 1968, Marine magnetic anomalies, geomagnetic field reversals, and motions of the ocean floor and continents: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 73, no. 6, p. 2119-2136.
  8. Isacks, B., Oliver, J., and Sykes, L.R., 1968, Seismology and the new global tectonics: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 73, p. 5855-5899.
  9. McKenzie, D., and Sclater, J.G., 1971, The evolution of the Indian Ocean since the Late Cretaceous: Geophysical Journal, Royal Astronomical Society, v. 25, p. 437-528.
  10. Moulin, M., Aslanian, D., and Unternehr, P., 2010, A new starting point for the South and Equatorial Atlantic Ocean: Earth-Science Reviews, v. 98, p. 1-37, doi: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2009.08.001

Reference List

Overviews, compilations and textbooks of tectonics and whole-Earth structure

Some references concerning the early history of plate tectonics and continental drift.

Other Resources

If you have any questions or comments about this site or its contents, drop an email to the humble webmaster .
All of the original content of this website is © 2017 by Vincent S. Cronin