How the continents deform: The evidence from tectonic geodesy

Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences



Space geodesy now provides quantitative maps of the surface velocity field within tectonically active regions, supplying constraints on the spatial distribution of deformation, the forces that drive it, and the brittle and ductile properties of continental lithosphere. Deformation is usefully described as relative motions among elastic blocks and is block-like because major faults are weaker than adjacent intact crust. Despite similarities, continental block kinematics differs from global plate tectonics: blocks are much smaller, typically ∼100–1000 km in size; departures from block rigidity are sometimes measurable; and blocks evolve over ∼1–10 Ma timescales, particularly near their often geometrically irregular boundaries. Quantitatively relating deformation to the forces that drive it requires simplifying assumptions about the strength distribution in the lithosphere. If brittle/elastic crust is strongest, interactions among blocks control the deformation. If ductile lithosphere is the stronger, its flow properties determine the surface deformation, and a continuum approach is preferable.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title How the continents deform: The evidence from tectonic geodesy
Series title Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
DOI 10.1146/
Volume 37
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher Annual Reviews
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 6 p.
First page 237
Last page 262
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details