It may appear like Earth’s shape is never changing. In reality, it is constantly changing. Some changes are so slow we never see their impacts in our lifetime. Other changes occur instantly. There are two factors that can change Earth’s shape. These are tectonic activity and erosion (Bendick, 1965). Volcanoes and earthquakes, caused by tectonic activity, are examples of events that change Earth’s shape quickly. Erosion, on the other hand, can take millions of years (Stille, 2016).
Tectonic activity is a major cause in the change of Earth’s shape. “Tectonic activity works under the surface of the earth, pushing new things to the top” (Bendick, 1965, p. 41). They are three ways tectonic plate can interact with one another (Parker, 1993). They can collide, grow apart, or slide past each other. Volcanoes and earthquakes are examples of events caused by tectonic activity. “A volcano is a mountain that has gases and hot liquid rock, called magma, inside it” (Baxter, 1997, p. 8). Earthquakes occur when two tectonic plates rub against one another. Earthquakes that happen under the ocean can cause tsunamis (Baxter, 1997). A tsunami can dramatically change earth’s surface.
Erosion is another major factor in the changes of earth’s shape. Erosion can be as simple as a raindrop or as complex as a glacier pushing tons of land. Many events can cause erosion. Examples include wind, water, animals, insects, and even farming (Stille, 2016). Some cases of erosion happen quickly. Others take hundreds of thousands of years (Stille, 2016). The Grand Canyon was created by the Colorado River causing erosion over the course of millions of years. (Stille). Wind can be a major cause of erosion, especially in dry areas (Stille, 2016). Along with wind and water, glaciers cause erosion. “Glaciers have caused some of the most extensive erosion on the planet” (Stille, 1965, p. 32). Glaciers still exist today. “The Kutiah Glacier in Pakistan holds the record for the fastest glacier ever. In 1953, it moved 7.44 miles in three months” (Stille, 2016, p. 33). While erosion may be less noticeable than earthquakes or volcanoes, it is just as important in shaping Earth’s surface.
Planet Earth is a “dynamic, ever-changing world” (Litton, 2017, p. 9). These changes can occur quickly or slowly. Because of tectonic activity and erosion, Earth’s changes will continue to change for the rest of its existence. While some changes occur naturally, it is important to realize human impacts on these changes and how we can prevent them.
Baxter, N. (1997). Our wonderful earth. Charlotte, NC: Stampley.
Bendick, J. (1965). The shape of the Earth. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Litton, J., & Hegbrook, T. (2017). The Earth book. Wilton, CT: 360 Degrees, an imprint of Tiger Tales.
Parker, S. (1993). The earth and how it works. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley.
Stille, D. R. (2016). EROSION: How land forms, how it changes. Minneapolis, MN: COMPASS POINT Books.
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