Scholastic News Online

Scholastic News Online is a free resource with breaking news and highlights from the print magazine.

Available for grades 1-6, Scholastic News magazine brings high-interest current events and nonfiction to millions of classrooms each week.

Additionally, our subscribers have FREE access to Scholastic News Interactive, an exclusive online learning tool featuring digital editions, videos, interactive features, differentiated articles, and much more.

Remnants of the lost Farallon plate may lie deep beneath California. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images)

Found: A Missing Tectonic Plate

Scientists discover part of an ancient tectonic plate under California

By Jennifer Marino Walters | April 10 , 2013
<p> TOP: The Farallon plate has been sinking deeper into the earth for the last 150 million years. (Karin Sigloch / Science Source/ Photo Researchers) </p><p> BOTTOM: The Isabella anomaly was a mystery until it was identified as a piece of the Farallon plate. (Jim McMahon)</p>

TOP: The Farallon plate has been sinking deeper into the earth for the last 150 million years. (Karin Sigloch / Science Source/ Photo Researchers)

BOTTOM: The Isabella anomaly was a mystery until it was identified as a piece of the Farallon plate. (Jim McMahon)

Millions of years ago, a tectonic plate—a gigantic, slow-moving rock slab—disappeared beneath what is now North America. Called the Farallon plate, it once sat between the Pacific and North American plates. Those plates began converging about 100 million years ago, eventually forming California’s San Andreas Fault.

Tectonic plates cover Earth’s crust, or outermost layer. These enormous masses of rock sit underneath entire continents and oceans. The plates move very slowly, but when they move, they can cause earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Over long periods of time, the movement of tectonic plates can make—or destroy—mountains, islands, and even continents.

Millions of years ago, this movement forced the Farallon plate deep inside Earth’s mantle, where it broke into pieces. The mantle is the rocky layer beneath the Earth’s crust.

Many pieces of the Farallon plate went missing. But recently, scientists made a big discovery: They found a large chunk of the Farallon plate 62 to 124 miles beneath California. The scientists published their research in a scientific journal.


By locating this plate, scientists solved a big geological mystery known as the Isabella anomaly. (An anomaly is something that doesn’t follow a general rule.) The Isabella anomaly is a large mass of cool, dry material below Earth’s surface in California. Scientists had found it by examining the way seismic waves passed through it. Seismic waves are waves of energy released by the sudden breaking of rock within the earth, often caused by an earthquake.

Seismic waves move slow through soft, hot material and quickly through stiff, cool material. Though there were many theories, no one could figure out exactly what the Isabella anomaly was.

But a few years ago, scientists discovered another anomaly under Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, directly east of some known remains of the Farallon plate. So the scientists took a closer look at the Isabella anomaly. They found that it lined up with the Baja anomaly as well as with other anomalies associated with the Farallon slabs. It was also the same distance below Earth’s surface as these other anomalies, and seismic waves passed through it in the same way.

The scientists concluded that both the Baja and the Isabella anomalies are leftover pieces of the Farallon plate. They had gotten stuck to the North American plate instead of dropping into Earth’s mantle.

“This work has radically changed our understanding of the makeup of the west coast of North America,” says Brian Savage of the University of Rhode Island, one of the scientists who worked on the study. “It will cause a thorough rethinking of the geological history of North America.”

  • Teacher Store
  • The Teacher Store  
    Scholastic Q & A: Are Mountains Growing Taller?

    Scholastic Q & A: Are Mountains Growing Taller?

    by Gilda Berger;Melvin H. Berger and Robin Carter

    An acclaimed pair of authors come together to answer every question any science enthusiast might ask, while explaining key science concepts in appealing and understandable language! Full-color, realistic illustrations enhance clear, informative text.

    $4.46 You save: 25%
    Paperback Book | Grades 3-5
    Add To Cart
    Educators Only
    Scholastic Q & A: Are Mountains Growing Taller?
    Grades 3-5 $4.46
    Add To Cart
  • Teacher Store
  • The Teacher Store  


    by Jil Fine


    •     The ultimate series of "high-low" books for reluctant readers
    •     Clearly written, simple sentences
    •     Consistent, familiar vocabulary
    •     Sidebars
    •     User-friendly fact boxes, charts, and tables
    •     Where appropriate, some titles include timelines, equipment lists, safety tips, and maps


      11/1/06 Booklist
      This entry follows other titles in the Natural Disaster series by covering not only the causes and effects of a catastrophe but also recovery efforts undertaken in its wake, and preventive measures taken later. Here, the author focuses on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed more than 200,000 lives in more than two dozen countries. Between an account of the tsunami's disastrous course and a set of child-friendly Web sites and other resources, she discusses the range of geological events that cause such waves; the difficulties many affected countries had, first in warning coastal residents, then in coping with the damage; and, finally, the extent of early-detection instruments and strategies that have since been deployed. Enhanced by plenty of full-page color photos, plus advice for readers who live in susceptible areas, this study provides an unusual perspective on the tragedy, and so complements earlier books on the topic.


      $17.15 You save: 30%
      Library Binding | Grades 4-12
      Add To Cart
      Educators Only
    Grades 4-12 $17.15
    Add To Cart
Privacy Policy




Here's something interesting from