Plate Tectonics -- Modern Earth (IMAGE) University of Maryland Caption The outer layer of modern Earth is a collection of interlocking rigid plates, as seen in this illustration. These plates grind together, sliding past or dipping beneath one another, giving rise to earthquakes and volcanoes. But new research suggests that plate tectonics did not begin until much later in Earth's history. Credit USGS Usage Restrictions None License Licensed content Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.