This Is How Tectonic Plates Make the Earth's Surface Wobble

Where tectonic plates meet, there's trouble—we all know that from grade school—but you might not realise just how much movement they cause when earthquakes aren't happening. This GIF shows in centimeter accuracy just how dramatic their effects can be.

Created by the European Space Agency from data acquired by satellite radars, this visualization depicts the East African Rift, an area where two tectonic plates are moving apart. It's known its fair share of geological activity, and is home to a number of volcanoes, too.

The animation uses Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar to visualize centimeter changes in surface displacement, by recording subtle variations in radar signal interference—pretty impressive given the satellites float 800 kilometers above the Earth's surface. The result is the rainbow-colored interference pattern on the GIF, which corresponds directly to how land is uplifting or subsiding.

So, you can see that the dormant volcano Mount Longonot rose by 9 cm between 2004 and 2006—probably a result of magma underground causing deformation of the surface above. And evidence like that isn't just pretty: it lets researchers understand and predict volcano behavior better, too. But, it is pretty, isn't it? [ESA]

Images by Planetary Visions/NERC-COMET/JAXA/ESA