In a hypothetical scenario, scientists have suggested that for the Earth's tectonic plates to jam, a huge rise in atmospheric temperatures would do the trick, causing continents to grind to a halt, mountains to stop growing and earthquakes to cease.
According to a report in New Scientist, Adrian Lenardic of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and colleagues developed a model demonstrating this particular scenario.
On Earth, the motion of magma in the mantle pushes continental plates around on the surface, but if the magma became too hot and runny it would lose the grip needed to do this.
Now, the Rice university team's model determined that a very hot atmosphere can trigger this effect by slowing heat loss from the mantle.
It showed that for such effects to occur on Earth, average atmospheric temperatures would need to rise by 60 °C.
Though this is unlikely to happen on Earth in the foreseeable future,it could be caused by a huge rise in volcanic activity but not by human-made climate change, according to the report.
Defining this upper limit may help determine if and when other planets, such as Venus, experienced tectonic plate movement as well, it added.