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Topic

Earthquakes

Science

Earth science

geology

Key Question

How can you locate the epicenter of an earthquake?

Integrated Processes

Observing

Inferring

Collecting and recording data

Interpreting data

Drawing conclusions

Learning Goals

Students will:

read simplified seismograms;

read and interpret a Richter Nomogram; and

interpret data to locate the epicenter of earthquakes

using triangulation.

Materials

For each group:

one pushpin

two scale compass cards (see Management 5)

pencil with a sharp point

one 12-inch by 18-inch piece of cardboard

Guiding Documents

Project 2061 Benchmarks

Some changes in the earths surface are abrupt

(such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions)

while other changes happen very slowly (such as

uplifting and wearing down mountains).

Graphs can show a variety of possible relationships between two variables.

Background Information

The study of earthquakes is called seismology.

Earthquakes occur as a result of a sudden release of

stored energy. This energy builds up over long periods of time as a result of forces between the Earths

tectonic plates. Most earthquakes occur along faults

in the upper part of the Earths crust when one tectonic plate moves rapidly relative to the position of

the other plate. This sudden motion causes seismic

waves to radiate out. This area is called the focus.

A seismic wave transfers energy from one spot

to another within the Earth. There are two types of

waves that scientists monitor during earthquakes: P

(primary) waves, which are similar to sound waves,

and S (secondary) waves which are a type of shear

wave. In the Earth, P waves can travel through solids

and liquids; S waves can travel only through solids

Seismographs are instruments used to measure

Earth movement. The first seismograph was created in the second century AD in China. The brilliant

scientist, mathematician, and inventor Chang Heng

developed this seismograph. The illustration on the

student map page of this activity shows what this

seismograph looked like. A tremor caused one of

eight bronze balls that were placed in the dragons

mouth to drop into the mouth of one of eight bronze

frogs. The path of the ball indicated the area from

which the tremor came.

NRC Standards

Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and

oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters

per year in response to movements in the mantle.

Major geological events, such as earthquakes,

volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result

from these plate motions.

Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific

inquiry.

Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy

and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results

of investigations.

NCTM Standards 2000*

Recognize and apply geometric ideas and relationships in areas outside the mathematics classroom,

such as art, science, and everyday life

Select and apply techniques and tools to accurately

find length, area, volume, and angle measures to

appropriate levels of precision

Math

Measurement

length

EARTH BOOK

109

1848. The principle behind a traditional seismograph

is rather simple. A weight is freely suspended from a

support that is attached to bedrock. When waves from

a distant earthquake reach the instrument, the inertia

of the weight keeps it stationary, while the Earth and

the support vibrate. The movement of the Earth in relation to the stationary weight is recorded on a rotating

drum. It produces a seismogram that shows a continuous record of Earth movement. There are seismographic

stations all over the world. There are literally millions of

earthquakes that can be detected by a seismograph

each year. Thousands are strong enough to be felt by

people.

S-P interval (expressed in seconds)

S wave maximum amplitude (measured in mm)

The scale intervals [The horizontal scale on

these seismograms is 2 seconds and the

vertical scale 10 mm.]

3. Tell the students to determine the P-wave arrival

time, S-wave arrival time, S-P interval in seconds,

and S-wave maximum amplitude for each of the

two examples.

4. Show the students how to use the Richter

Nomogram to determine the distance the earthquake has occurred from the seismograph. The

students will need to first know the S-P interval.

They will then use the left portion of the Richter

Nomogram that lists distance and S-P interval.

The students will follow the vertical column of

the S-P interval up the Richter Nomogram until

they reach the interval in seconds that matches

the seismogram reading. They will then read the

corresponding distance by reading horizontally

across the column. This distance is called the

epicentral distance, the distance a site is from

the epicenter of the earthquake.

5. Instruct the students how to use the Richter

Nomogram to estimate the magnitude of the

earthquake. Direct them to plot the distance on

the left column and the amplitude on the right

column. Tell them to draw a line to connect the

two points. The magnitude can be estimated

by reading the point where the line crosses the

magnitude scale in the middle. Use the Richter

Nomogram to estimate the magnitude of the two

sample earthquakes.

Management

1. Emphasize to the students that the seismogram

in this activity is highly simplified. Use the

seismogram on the student page to help the

students identify the following parts:

P waves and the P wave arrival time

S waves and the S wave arrival time

S-P interval (expressed in seconds)

S wave maximum amplitude (measured in mm)

The P waves are the first to arrive at a seismographic station. The S waves will follow. The

difference in time between the arrival of the P and

S waves is called the S-P interval. The amplitude

of the S wave is measured in mm and is read on

the vertical axis of the seismogram. The maximum amplitude can be above or below the 0 line

on the seismogram.

2. To locate an earthquakes epicenter, you need to

have the seismogram readings from three sites.

On each of the seismograms you will need to

determine the S-P interval. The S-P interval will

then be used to determine the distance the waves

traveled from the origin of that station.

3. The epicenter for Data Set One is in the northwest

corner of Wyoming (Yellowstone National Park)

and the second epicenter is Charleston, South

Carolina. Both of these sites are seismologically

active areas.

4. The map scale should measure 7 mm equals

100 km. You may need to have students adjust

their scale compass cards as a result of distortion

that occurs when items are photocopied.

Procedure

Part One

1. Ask the Key Question and state the Learning Goals.

2. Distribute the first student page with the model

seismogram. Direct the students to examine the

model seismogram. Have students locate and

identify the following parts:

P waves and the P wave arrival time

EARTH BOOK

110

Part Two

1. Ask the Key Question and state the Learning Goals.

2. Distribute the maps and data sets. Determine

the P wave arrival time, S wave arrival time,

S-P interval in seconds, and S wave maximum

amplitude for each of the seismograms.

3. Use the Richter Nomogram to determine the

distance each station was from the earthquakes

epicenter.

4. Tell the students to tape the maps onto the

cardboard.

5. Have the students construct the two scale compass

cards. The students will need to use a different

scale compass card for each earthquake. The

cards are constructed from a 3 by 5 index card.

Direct the students to:

cut off two 1-cm strips from the three-inch

dimension of the card;

place the factory cut edge of each strip along

the scale of the map and trace the map scale

onto it;

start marking the scale 2 cm from the end;

use the pushpin to place a hole on the middle

of the first line (0 km);

determine the distance from each of the

seismograms from Data Set One; and

use the pushpin to punch a small hole

matching the three distances from the three

seismograms on the scale compass card.

6. Direct the students to use the scale compass card

to draw the three circles that go with the data set.

Place the pushpin on each of the three different

cities and draw a circle using that citys epicentral distance by placing a very sharp pencil in the

corresponding hole. The earthquakes epicenter

is located at the intersection of the three circles.

The students will need to make a new scale

compass card for the second data set.

seismograms. Have them predict which is the

closest station, the middle station, and the furthest

station from the epicenter. Then have them find

the epicenter of this earthquake and estimate the

magnitude.

Connecting Learning

1. What is the difference in a seismogram and a

seismograph? [The seismogram is the chart of an

earthquake. The seismograph is the instrument

that makes the seismogram.]

2. Why is it necessary to use three stations when

locating an earthquakes epicenter?

3. What do you notice about the maximum amplitude

at each seismographic station and the location

of the epicenter? [The larger the amplitude, the

closer the station is to the epicenter.]

4. Why is it important to determine the scale before

reading a graph or instrument?

5. In what part of the country do you think there are

the most seismographic stations?

6. Would a fourth station reading be useful? [It

depends on the location, a close station may

give more information on the magnitude of the

earthquake.]

7. What are you wondering now?

*

School Mathematics, 2000 by the National Council of teachers

of Mathematics. All rights reserved

Solutions

Practice

(Data approximated)

S-P Interval 38 sec.

Amplitude 160 mm

Epicentral Distance 3600 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.5

1 cm

Amplitude 100 mm

Epicentral Distance 640 km

Estimated Magnitude 7.2

2 cm

(Data approximated)

Cheyenne, WY

S-P Interval 64 sec.

Amplitude 40 mm

Epicentral Distance 620 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.7

location of the earthquakes epicenter.

8. Tell the students to use the Richter Nomogram to

estimate the magnitude of the earthquake.

9. Ask the students what they notice about the

amplitude and location of the epicenter. [The

larger the amplitude, the closer the station is to

the epicenter.]

EARTH BOOK

111

S-P Interval 52 sec.

Amplitude 90 mm

Epicentral Distance 500 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.6

Helena, MT

S-P Interval 33 sec.

Amplitude 250 mm

Epicentral Distance 310 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.5

Epicenter: Yellowstone National Park

Northwest Wyoming

Atlanta, GA

S-P Interval 51 sec.

Amplitude 150 mm

Epicentral Distance 490 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.7

Raleigh, NC

S-P Interval 42 sec.

Amplitude 260 mm

Epicentral Distance 400 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.7

Tampa, FL

S-P Interval 66 sec.

Amplitude 50 mm

Epicentral Distance 640 km

Estimated Magnitude 6.8

Epicenter: Charleston, SC

EARTH BOOK

112

Key Question

How can you locate the

epicenter of an earthquake?

Learning Goals

read simplified

seismograms;

read and interpret a Richter

Nomogram; and

interpret data to locate the

epicenter of earthquakes

using triangulation.

EARTH BOOK

113

EARTH BOOK

114

EARTH BOOK

115

Tampa, FL

Helena, MT

Raleigh, NC

Atlanta, GA

Cheyenne, WY

EARTH BOOK

116

EARTH BOOK

117

300

km

EARTH BOOK

118

Connecting Learning

1. What is the difference

in a seismogram and a

seismograph?

2. Why is it necessary to use

three stations when locating an

earthquakes epicenter?

3. What do you notice about the

maximum amplitude at each

seismographic station and the

location of the epicenter?

4. Why is it important to determine

the scale before reading a graph

or instrument?

EARTH BOOK

119

Connecting Learning

5. In what part of the country

do you think there are

the most seismographic

stations?

6. Would a fourth station reading

be useful?

7. What are you wondering now?

EARTH BOOK

120

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