Dinner Plate Tectonics

What drives plate tectonics? Heat flow, of course. Or energy transfer…it is all the same. It is the act of sketching poorly-drawn Mohr’s circles that tires the mind and the hours upon hours scanning for the missing parenthesis that drains the eyes. Is there is even time to eat dinner? Lunch? Breakfast? Forget second breakfast and supper, right? But the physical laws of the universe remain: heat flows, dinner plates subduct, spread, or slip past each other from a lapse in friction, and fall onto the floor in a pile of entropic ceramic pieces.

Thermodynamics and Continuum Mechanics never let us rest, and dinnertime is no different, making the science of dinner plate tectonics quite simple. Oven convection …well, actually it can just be explained with pictures.

Figure 1 shows the most riveting (or should we say trivetting) plate margin type: divergent. No, not the movie. Plate boundaries were doing this way before the book series and movie were even cool. Speaking of cool, that is what the plate material at this type of boundary are NOT. Heat causes them to spread apart. The worst thing one can do is touch a hot plate, or so a waitress in a diner will tell anyone with overanxious enthusiasm for grabbing the french fries off their plate and popping them into their mouths.

Convergent plate boundaries are represented in Figure 2. Convergent plate boundaries are the most exciting when it comes to seismicity, if one considers washing dishes exciting. The older, colder, denser, and least aesthetically appealing plate will be the one to subduct under the newer, less dense, and more trendy plate.

Another type of plate margins are called strike-slip, pictured in Figure 3. The name derives from America’s best sport, baseball, and the pitches called strikes. Why? Because these plates hold hotdogs straight off the grill, therefore Murrica, therefore baseball. Yes. The slip part in the name comes from the fact that they are slipping past each other. Mind-blowing, right?

Besides patriotism, heat is the main driver of dinner plate tectonics. Where did all this heat come from? Radioactive decay, of course. Or chemical decomposition. In other words: your mom…or rather, her recipes decaying in the back of the fridge.

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