Much of the success of plate tectonics can be attributed to the near rigidity of tectonic plates and the availability of data that describe the rates and directions of motion across narrow plate boundaries ∼1 to 60 kilometers wide. Nonetheless, many plate boundaries in both continental and oceanic lithosphere are not narrow but are hundreds to thousands of kilometers wide. Wide plate boundary zones cover ∼15 percent of Earth's surface area. Space geodesy, which includes very long baseline radio interferometry, satellite laser ranging, and the global positioning system, is providing the accurate long-distance measurements needed to estimate the present motion across and within wide plate boundary zones. Space geodetic data show that plate velocities averaged over years are remarkably similar to velocities averaged over millions of years.
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