The term “lithosphere” is used for the first couple layers of the inside of the Earth – the crust and upper mantle. The lithosphere extends about 80 km down into the ground, and is divided up into enormous plates that slowly move as they “float” on molten rock even further down in the planet’s interior. The movement of lithospheric plates is responsible for the gradual movement of the continents, which have shifted their positions many times in the planet’s billions of years-long history. As the plates of the lithosphere bump up against each other or gradually pull apart, they may create mountain ranges, cause earthquakes and volcanoes, and gradually increase or decrease the size of the oceans. Except in the case of earthquakes and volcanoes, though, you won’t be able to notice the change; all of this takes place on a timescale of many millions of years!
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