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Introduction to Earthquakes & Tsunamis

Turn on the TV or read the newspapers and almost always there is something
devastating happening somewhere as a result of sheer nature's power. Examples of
such natural occurrences are hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, volcanic eruptions,
flooding, earthquakes, and tsunamis. These are usually not caused directly by humans,
but their effects live with us for a long time. In this lesson, we shall look at one of such
natural occurrences...earthquakes!

What is an Earthquake?
Simply, earthquakes are the rumblings, shaking or rolling of the earth's surface. It is
usually what happens when two blocks of the earth suddenly slip past one another, or
break apart from each other as a result of tension caused by prolonged energy build up.

Earthquakes come
in many forms. It can be felt like a shock under your feet or it may be very powerful
and destructive enough to flatten an entire city. They can happen anywhere, land or

Foreshocks, Mainshocks and Aftershocks:

Sometimes, there are smaller shocks that occur before (foreshock) and after
(aftershock) the main earthquake (mainshock). Sometimes foreshocks are so big and
scientists are unsure if it is the main shock. Foreshocks and aftershocks can occur for
days, weeks and months of the main earthquake.

Earthquakes are also called temblors.

It is important to understand
the earth’s makeup to help understand
earthquakes better.
In this diagram, you will notice that the inner and outer core of the earth (middle part)
is liquid in nature, containing iron and nickel of extreme temperatures (5,500°C).

The Mantle is semi-molten rock, also called magma. The outer is the crust, which is the
hard part of the earth that forms the surface. This outer crust includes the land on
which we live, the oceans and ocean deeps and anything within 40km (approx) down
the earth's surface.

Earthquakes are developed in the outer crust of the earth.

Important terms to know about earthquakes

Let us take a moment to learn about these terms to help us understand earthquakes

Tectonic Plates:
These are huge layers that make up the earth’s upper layers. They continually stretch,
move, slide, and collide against each other. Even though they are constantly moving,
we do not feel it because they move very slowly. Each plate is about 50 to 250 miles
(80 to 400 km) thick.

Faults (or Fault plane or fault lines):

These are weak lines that can develop in the plates, usually on the surface of the earth.
There are different types of faults and the major types include dip-slip normal, dip-slip
reverse, strike-slip and, oblique-slip.
The hypocenter is the location below the earth’s surface where the earthquake starts.
The epicenter is the location directly above it on the surface of the earth.

Seismograph and The Richter Scale (RS):

The seismograph is a device that scientists use to measure the magnitude of an
earthquake. The Richter scale, on the other hand, is a scale or measure that is used to
compare earthquakes. It is calculated in levels of ten. For example, an earthquake
measuring 4 on the RS is ten times more than a measurement of 3, and an earthquake
measuring 8 on the RS is 10 times more than one that measured 7 on the RS. As a
guide, an earthquake measuring 3-5 is considered minor, 5-7 is moderate, 7-8 is
major, and 8 or more is considered great and usually very devastating.
Ring of Fire:

This is the coastal belt of the Pacific Ocean (see diagram) which is the home of many
volcanic eruptions, plate movement, and major fault lines. About 90% of the world's
earthquakes and 81% of the world's largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.
The Ring of Fire is a direct result of plate tectonics and the movement and collisions of
lithospheric plates.