Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs

Part of the series Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series pp 801-812

Plate Tectonics

  • Paul WesselAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa


Continental drift


Absolute plate motions (APM): Motion of tectonic plates relative to a fixed point in the mantle, typically defined by one or more hot spots (i.e., the hotspot reference frame).

Apparent polar wander (APW): Motion of the north pole as seen from a moving tectonic plate.

Relative plate motions (RPM): Motion of tectonic plates relative to each other, typically inferred from marine magnetic anomalies and the geomagnetic timescale.

True polar wander (TPW): Rotation of the entire solid Earth leading to a realignment of the rotation (and geomagnetic) axis.


Reefs build on shallow-water geologic foundations (e.g., continental shelves, tectonically active oceanic islands) that slowly undergo horizontal (due to plate tectonics) and vertical (thermal and flexural subsidence) movements over time. As plates move laterally, coral-rich areas may move to latitudes where coral growth is inhibited (e.g., Grigg and Epp, 1989). Further ...

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