Ocean Trenches

Ocean trenches are natural tectonic plate boundaries between two crustal plates. When a continental plate converges with an oceanic plate a subduction zone forms. The heavier oceanic plate subducts beneath the lighter continental plate forming a trench.

Two oceanic plates converging forming ocean trench, USGS

Two oceanic plates converging forming
a trench between the plates

Mariana Trench
Trenches form in some areas when two oceanic plates converge forming a subduction zone. The Pacific Plate is subducting beneath the Mariana Plate forming Mariana Trench. The Pacific Plate is older and colder than the Mariana Plate. The trench formed by these two oceanic plates is the deepest spot in the world's oceans and includes the Challenger Deep.

Oceanic trench begins to subduct
Ocean trenches form when a heavier and flexible oceanic plate begins its decent. The seaward side of the trench has a gentle slope of about 5 degrees because the plate must bend as it plunges downward.

Inner wall of the trench
The continental side of most trenches forms the inner wall. The wall has a steeper slope which is usually between 10 and 16 degrees. The two plates slide past each other where they intersect at the bottom of the trench. Most subduction zones are located around the Pacific Ocean.

Volcanic arcs
Volcanic arcs form above overriding plates in subduction zones. A volcanic arc is a belt of volcanoes that are fueled by the melting subducting plate. The Cascade Volcanoes are a volcanic arc that stretches 700 miles southward from British Columbia to Northern California on the continental side of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Aleutian arc
The Aleutian Arc is a large volcanic arc that has formed as the Pacific Plate subducts beneath the North American Plate. The Aleutian Trench separates the two plates.

More Plate Tectonic Links

S Waves Find out about S waves and how they are produced and travel through the Earth.

Plate Movements Moving plates on our planet converge, separate and slide past each other.

Nazca Plate This plate converges with the Pacific Plate producing very large earthquakes off the coast of Chile.

Thrust Faults These faults occur where large blocks of land can be forced over the top of another block of land at a low angle.

Divergent Boundary These boundaries form the global mid-ocean ridge system which is the largest mountain chain on Earth.

Ocean Trenches Find out how plates diving beneath other crustal plates create trenches on the ocean floor that are deepest points on Earth.

Plate Tectonics Find out lots of fascinating facts and interesting trivia on plate tectonics.

Kids Fun Science The links on our home page include information about volcanoes, science activities, plate tectonics, the rock cycle and much more.

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