lithosphere (lĭthˈəsfērˌ) [key], brittle uppermost shell of the earth, broken into a number of tectonic plates. The lithosphere consists of the heavy oceanic and lighter continental crusts, and the uppermost portion of the mantle. The crust and mantle are separated by the Moho or Mohorovicic discontinuity (see earth and seismology). The thickness of the lithosphere varies from to around 1 mi (1.6 km) at the mid-ocean ridges to approximately 80 mi (130 km) beneath older oceanic crust. The thickness of the continental lithospheric plates is probably around 185 mi (300 km) but is uncertain due to the irregular presence of the Moho discontinuity. The lithosphere rests on a soft layer called the asthenosphere, over which the plates of the lithosphere glide. See plate tectonics.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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