Definition: Rift Zone
A divergent plate boundary within a continent
- In plate tectonics, a divergent boundary or divergent plate boundary (also known as a constructive boundary or an extensional boundary) is a linear feature that exists between two tectonic plates that are moving away from each other. Divergent boundaries within continents initially produce rifts which eventually become rift valleys. Most active divergent plate boundaries occur between oceanic plates and exist as mid-oceanic ridges. Divergent boundaries also form volcanic islands which occur when the plates move apart to produce gaps which molten lava rises to fill.Current research indicates that complex convection within the Earth's mantle allows material to rise to the base of the lithosphere beneath each divergent plate boundary. This supplies the area with vast amounts of heat and a reduction in pressure that melts rock from the asthenosphere (or upper mantle) beneath the rift area forming large flood basalt or lava flows. Each eruption occurs in only a part of the plate boundary at any one time, but when it does occur, it fills in the opening gap as the two opposing plates move away from each other.Over millions of years, tectonic plates may move many hundreds of kilometers away from both sides of a divergent plate boundary. Because of this, rocks closest to a boundary are younger than rocks further away on the same plate.