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Earths' Lithosphere vs. Earths' Asthenosphere — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Published on March 1, 2024
Earth's lithosphere is the rigid outer layer, including the crust and upper mantle, known for its stability. The asthenosphere is a semi-fluid layer beneath the lithosphere, known by its plasticity and role in facilitating the movement of tectonic plates.
Earths' Lithosphere vs. Earths' Asthenosphere — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Earths' Lithosphere and Earths' Asthenosphere


Key Differences

The Earth is composed of several layers, each distinct in its composition and physical properties. The lithosphere and asthenosphere are two such layers that play critical roles in the planet's geological dynamics.
The lithosphere comprises the Earth's crust and the uppermost part of the mantle, extending to about 100 kilometers below the surface. This layer is rigid and brittle, making it capable of breaking and causing earthquakes. The lithosphere is divided into tectonic plates that float atop the more pliable layer beneath – the asthenosphere. These tectonic plates move due to the convective currents within the asthenosphere, leading to phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the formation of mountain ranges.
Beneath the lithosphere lies the asthenosphere, which extends from about 100 kilometers to approximately 700 kilometers below the Earth's surface. Unlike the rigid lithosphere, the asthenosphere is semi-fluid and plastic-like. This viscosity allows the asthenosphere to flow slowly, accommodating and driving the movement of the lithosphere's tectonic plates. The asthenosphere's plasticity is due to the high pressure and temperature conditions it experiences, which partially melt the mantle rock, making it less rigid and more ductile.
The lithosphere's interaction with the asthenosphere is fundamental to plate tectonics. The lithosphere's plates move, collide, and slide past each other on the asthenosphere's plastic flow, shaping the Earth's surface over geological time scales. This dynamic process is responsible for creating the Earth's topographic features, including mountains, valleys, and ocean basins.
The lithosphere provides a solid surface for life and ecosystems, whereas the asthenosphere's movements beneath influence the lithosphere's stability and the occurrence of geological events. Understanding the relationship between these two layers is crucial for geologists to predict seismic activity and understand the Earth's evolving landscape.

Comparison Chart


Crust and upper mantle
Upper mantle


0-100 kilometers below the surface
100-700 kilometers below the surface


Rigid and brittle
Semi-fluid and plastic-like

Role in Plate Tectonics

Comprises tectonic plates
Facilitates the movement of tectonic plates

Physical Properties

Cool and strong
Hot and ductile


Moves as rigid plates
Flows slowly, allowing plate movement

Contribution to Earth's Features

Directly forms the Earth's surface features
Influences the movement and formation of surface features

Seismic Activity

Location of earthquakes and volcanic activity
Affects the dynamics of plate movements and seismic activity indirectly

Compare with Definitions

Earths' Lithosphere

Location of most seismic activity.
The Ring of Fire is a result of lithospheric plate interactions.

Earths' Asthenosphere

Partially melted, contributing to its viscosity.
Magma originates from the partial melting of the asthenosphere.

Earths' Lithosphere

The Earth's outermost layer, including crust and upper mantle, involved in tectonic activities.
The Himalayas were formed by the collision of two lithospheric plates.

Earths' Asthenosphere

A semi-fluid layer beneath the lithosphere, allowing for plate movement.
Tectonic plates glide over the asthenosphere.

Earths' Lithosphere

Directly forms the Earth's surface features.
Volcanic islands emerge at lithospheric plate boundaries.

Earths' Asthenosphere

Influences the dynamics of lithospheric movements.
The slow flow of the asthenosphere affects the speed of tectonic plate movement.

Earths' Lithosphere

Comprises tectonic plates that float on the asthenosphere.
The Pacific Plate is one of the largest lithospheric plates.

Earths' Asthenosphere

Characterized by its plasticity under high temperature and pressure.
The asthenosphere's ductility facilitates the convection currents driving plate tectonics.

Earths' Lithosphere

Characterized by its rigidity and ability to break.
Earthquakes occur due to the movement of the lithosphere's tectonic plates.

Earths' Asthenosphere

Indirectly contributes to the formation of Earth's surface features.
Mountain building processes are influenced by asthenospheric movements beneath the lithosphere.

Common Curiosities

What defines the boundary between the lithosphere and asthenosphere?

The boundary is defined by a significant decrease in rigidity, where the upper mantle (lithosphere) gives way to the more ductile, semi-fluid asthenosphere.

How do the lithosphere and asthenosphere interact during an earthquake?

Earthquakes primarily occur in the lithosphere when tectonic plates suddenly move or fracture. The asthenosphere's flow can influence these movements by accommodating the shifting plates.

What happens at the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary during volcanic eruptions?

Volcanic eruptions occur when magma from the asthenosphere rises through fractures in the lithosphere, reaching the surface.

How does the thickness of the lithosphere vary across the Earth?

The thickness of the lithosphere varies, being thinner at oceanic ridges and thicker beneath continents and old oceanic plates.

Can the asthenosphere be directly observed?

Direct observation of the asthenosphere is challenging due to its depth. However, its properties are inferred through seismic studies and the behavior of seismic waves.

Why is the asthenosphere important for plate tectonics?

The asthenosphere's plasticity allows the lithosphere's tectonic plates to move, collide, and subduct, driving the Earth's tectonic activity.

How does the temperature of the asthenosphere compare to that of the lithosphere?

The asthenosphere is hotter than the lithosphere, with temperatures high enough to allow mantle rock to partially melt, making it ductile.

What role does the asthenosphere play in continental drift?

The asthenosphere facilitates continental drift by allowing the Earth's plates, including continental plates, to move over its semi-fluid layer.

How do scientists study the asthenosphere?

Scientists study the asthenosphere using seismology, magnetotellurics, and laboratory experiments simulating its high-pressure, high-temperature conditions.

Are there any other layers of the Earth beneath the asthenosphere?

Yes, beneath the asthenosphere lies the lower mantle, followed by the Earth's outer and inner cores, each with distinct properties and compositions.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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