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An earthquake is a movement or tremor of the earths crust and it originates naturally and
below the earths surface. It is generally accompanied by permanent change of level at the
surface; but mostly no permanent effect is visible at the surface except the damage done by
the shaking. Owing to the lowering or raising of parts of the earths surface relative to sea
level, portions of the sea floor covered with sediments may be raised up to form dry land
whereas other parts of the sea floor may be slightly raised so that the sea may become
much shallower.
According to modern science, the causes of earthquakes are outlined under three major
i. Earthquakes due to volcanoes;
ii. Earthquakes due to tectonic movement of the earth; and,
iii. Earthquakes due to isostatic adjustments.
Besides these three major causes, which produce greater intensity in the tremor, there are
some localized and minor producing minor or local earthquakes.
Major Causes
In the volcanic belts earthquakes are frequent. When volcanic eruptions take place, lava,
steam, gases as well as volcanic bombs and ashes, etc., come out with so enormous force
that they exert great impact on the sides of the volcanic vent. As a result of this, shaking of
the earths crust takes place. This shaking or quake continues till the force of eruption slows
down. The velocity of the earthquake waves depends upon the intensity and magnitude of
the volcanic eruptions. Generally, volcanic earthquakes have their severity felt upto a
distance of 100 or 150 miles. But there are cases when the shock was experienced at a very
long distance. Such was the case, with the earthquake in Krakatoa Island in 1883. The
whole island itself was blown off and huge sea waves washed away many villages from the
nearby islands of Sumatra and Java. Its impact was experienced in Cape Horn in South
America at a distance of 8,000 miles.
Tectonic Movement of Earth
Tectonic is a term derived from a Greek word Tekton meaning Builder, applied to all
internal forces, which build-up the features of the earths crust. The term includes both
Diastrophism and Volcanicity. Diastrophic forces are those forces which have disturbed or
deformed the earths crust, including folding, faulting, uplift (rejuvenation) and depression.
Diastrophic forces may be of continent and plateau building (Epeirogenic), or of mountain
building (Orogenic). Diastrophic forces generally cause earth movements, meaning
movements of the earth caused by the internal forces (compressive, tensional, uplifting,
folding and faulting), on both a major and minor scale, and both rapid (earthquakes) and
slow, which affect the crust of the earth. All tectonic forces are due to some substantial
change in the substratum under the crust. As a result, tensional forces (causing faults) and
compressional forces (causing folds) are produced. These forces are greatly responsible for
earthquakes. The earthquake in Assam which affected mainly north Lakhimpur and
Sibasagar districts in 1950 and the Bihar earthquake in 1934 are two good examples of

earthquakes due to tectonic movements.

Isostatic Adjustments
It is known to the modern earth-scientists that there exists a State of Balance between the
Sialic (Silicon-Aluminum) Crust and the Simatic (Silicon-Magnesium) Substratum. The
mountain chains or the highlands are not just surface features but have sufficient downward
projection, so that the various relief features are arranged with a state of balance. This
concept is known as isostasy. If due to some cause or other, this state of balance between
the Sial and Sima (or the crust and the substratum) is disturbed then the forces are
developed beneath the surface to cause violent earthquakes as a result of an isostatic rise
or fall of landmass. This rise or fall of landmass takes place to restore the isostatic balance
between the Sialic and Simatic masses. Earthquakes caused by the isostatic readjustments
produce tremor on the surface and generally are not so much destructive as the volcanic
and tectonic earthquakes are. The earthquake on the 4th March, 1949 in the Hindukush
region is an example of Isostatic Earthquakes. Its shock was experienced in Lahore and the
surrounding areas.
Minor Causes
The minor earthquakes are localized in nature and are not destructive, because the forces
which cause these are not of greater intensity as they are produced locally. There are
several causes which produce minor earthquakes. The following are some of them:
Falling of the Roof of Cavern (Deep Cave)
In limestone topography, water percolates through sinkholes or fissures (gaps, cracks) and
reaches the underground caverns (hole in the rock). In course of time, the roof of the
cavern falls with great force and thereby causes minor earthquakes.
Ejection of Underground Steam
Sometimes water percolates through fissures and reaches the surface of hot material in the
interior. This results in the formation of clouds of steam which try to come out of the
surface. This also causes minor earthquakes.
Landslide is another cause of minor earthquakes. Earthquakes due to landslide are
experienced in the Himalayan Region, particularly in the rainy season.
Displacement of Huge Ice Blocks
In highlands, covered with snow, sometimes huge blocks of ice are displaced and fall into
the valley with great force. This causes minor earthquakes.
Local Isostatic Adjustments
It is an important and general cause of minor earthquakes. This happens when in an
elevated area, the balance between crust and substratum is disturbed.
Falling of Huge Rocks
Sometimes huge rocks from a cliff, near the sea, fall on the crust, thereby creating force to
cause earthquakes of minor nature.

The nature of damage caused by earthquake is multifarious (diverse). In addition to manmade structures such as buildings, bridges, towers etc., that collapse due to them, there are
a number of other effects produced in nature. Roads are severely damaged due to
subsidence (ebb) of ground and enormous fissures appear on the ground. Where the ground
consists of water-soaked alluvium, the underground water gushes out at many places and
deposits masses of sand in the form of craters (valleys). Extensive landslides occur in the
hilly regions and rocky debris comes down to block the path of streams, passing the valley
below. These rocks impound large quantities of water and form artificial lakes which after a
few days or weeks may burst due to the pressure of accumulated water. This results in
extensive devastation. These floods also deposit large quantities of silt in the bed of the
streams and upset the natural drainage of water and the hydrologic regime of the area.
The destruction is at the highest when the shock has originated at some place below the
sea. In that case, huge sea waves are formed which cause enormous damage when they
strike the shore. On the other hand, when the earthquakes are accompanied by volcanic
activity, the destruction brought by them is neither very enormous nor is there intensity
very violent. Again the greatest destruction brought about by the earthquake is never at the
epicenter because at that point the waves only produce an up and down movement. The
destruction is the greatest at that point which is so situated that the waves reach it in an
oblique manner and produce a side to side shacking. But this point must not be at a great
distance from the focus or the place or origin of the earthquake.
The earthquakes seldom cause any significance change in the shape and disposition of the
landforms but they, no doubt, bring a great disaster and their influence is most felt through
the damage caused by them. Changes brought about by the earthquakes may be studies
under the following headings:
Expansion of the Crust
Expansion of the crust results in faults and fissures. The tension produced by the
earthquake displaces the earths crust along some fault plane. First fissures, or cracks, or
fault planes are formed and then the crust is displaced over these planes either in such a
way that one side goes up and the other goes down, or along the fault plane the blocks
move sideways. This displacement is either vertical or lateral. Sometimes the displacement
is buried deep under the mantle and is not visible to the eye. Sometimes an earth mold, like
a mole hill, is formed above the fault so buried.
Contraction of the Earth
Contraction of the earth is more common than expansion. It is seen in the doubling,
buckling, or bending of railway lines, pipe line, and the collapse of river bridges. All these
are the manifestations of the ends of the joints coming closer to each other.
Derangement of Drainage System
Expansion and contraction also take place at the bed of water bodies and the manifest result
is that the whole drainage system is deranged (unbalanced). If at certain places, lakes and
swamps are drained off, at others, fountains of water gush forth from below the earth. The
gushing force of water has often left the place flooded and a semi-permanent lake is formed
on that piece of land, which was once dry and inhabited. During one of the recent
earthquakes, the Lungarno Pacnotti in Pisa, Italy, dropped 3 meters from its previous level
and crevices (fissure) opened on the road following the earth movement and the nearby

buildings had to be evacuated.

Crater or Cone Elevation
During an earthquake, the jets of water, that may be formed, often gather sand or mud at
their mouths. Gradually these accumulations begin to rise high and with their elevation
craterlets or cones may be formed. These are also known as Mud Volcanoes and continue to
dot the area, even though sprouting of the water through the fountains has terminated.
The occurrence of earthquakes is restricted largely to two long narrow zones. One zone
surrounds the Pacific Ocean and the other extends from the Azores Islands eastward to
southeastern Asia. There is also a minor zone which runs down the center of the Atlantic
Ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Circum Pacific Zone
The earthquake zone around the Pacific Ocean follows the west coast of South America,
splitting in Central America into two branches, one of which follows the West Indian Island
area, the other broadening in the United States to include the Western Rocky Mountain
area. The zone follows the Aleutian Island across to Kamchatka and passes southeast
through the Japanese Islands, the Philippines, New Guinea, the Islands of the Southwestern
Pacific to New Zealand and the Antarctica.
Azores Islands Zone
This zone runs east from the Azores Islands through the Alps and across Turkey. It becomes
very broad across southern Asia and then narrows and turns south through Burma,
Sumatra, and Java to join the Circum Pacific Zone near New Guinea.
Other Areas
There are several other areas where earthquakes are fairly common but not as frequent as
in the zones described above. The Mid Atlantic Region has been mentioned. Others are
Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean, in North America, two such regions are the Valley of
St. Lawrence River and northeastern United States. It has been demonstrated many times
that large earthquakes may occur outside of these seismically active regions.
Transformed boundaries that cut through the continental lithosphere are sites of intense
seismic activity, with moderate to strong earthquakes. The familiar examples are;
San Andreas Fault
The most familiar example is the 965 km long San Andreas Fault (through San Francisco
Bay extending into southern California), which forms the transform boundary between the
American Plate and the Pacific Plate in California. 1906 earthquake in San Francisco is an
Mid Atlantic Ridge
Most of the spreading boundaries are identified with mid oceanic ridge and its branches. Mid
Atlantic Ridge is the most suitable example of this activity. Earthquakes are generated both

along the ridge axis and on the transformed faults that connect offset ends of the ridge.
Indian Ocean Carlsberg Ridge
Mid Atlantic Ridge also extends to the center of Indian Ocean. There occur shallow
The zones of major seismic activity in the earth correspond closely to belts of young
mountains. Surrounding the ancient shield areas of the continents and the large stable block
of the Pacific Ocean Basin (excluding the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands) are situated the
following main earthquake zones:
Pacific Ocean Belt
The borders of the Pacific Ocean, with many complex branches, including a branching loop
through the Caribbean Sea, the islands of which are structurally like the Circum Pacific Belt.
In this belt occur about 80% of all shallow quakes, 90% of the intermediate ones and 99%
of the deep ones. The largest of the intermediate and deep quakes are assigned to the
Islands of Japan. Near Japan and the Philippines Islands, extreme northwestern side of
Pacific Plate is sub-ducting into the Continental Eurasian Plate, making extraordinary deep
trenches like Mariana and intense seismic activity. More deep quakes take place in the
triangle of Fiji, Tonga, and Kermadec Islands (east of Australia) than anywhere else.
Earthquakes in 1923 at Kwanto, Japan and in 1995 Kobe, Japan are examples of such
seismic activity.
The Mediterranean-Trans-Asiatic (Alpide) Belt
This whole belt is merging with the arc that runs through the East Indies. Here two kinds of
activities are involved. One is the transformed fault between African and Eurasian plates,
forming Atlas Mountains of the North Africa. This is of relatively shallow earthquake activity
area. Another activity area is where Austral-Indian Plate is sub-ducting into the Eurasian
plate, making an intense seismic area with epicenter at Himalayas, Hindukush, Karakoram
and Chittagong ranges. Slippage in these two plates are causing the formation of Himalayas
Mountains and also resulting in the seismic activity, like that of the earthquake of 1950 at
Assam and Tibet. The recent earthquake Harnai, Pakistan in 1997 is due to slippage in
transform boundary at Owen Fault Zone. Earthquakes in 1962 and 1968 with their epicenter
at Zagros Mountain Range in Iran are other examples of folding of folding activity.
Earthquakes of intense activity happened when movement occurred along with the
structural axis of Eurasian Plate. Examples are; in 1939 in Caucasus Range and Anatolia
sub-plateau [Atlas 30-G6]; in 1960 in Atlas Mountain Range at Agadir, Morocco [Atlas 36C2]; in 1963 in the tail of Alps Mountain Range at Skoplje, Yugoslavia [Atlas 22-F4]. The
whole city was destroyed.
Pamir-Baikal Belt
Pamir-Baikal Belt of Central Asia [Atlas 30-L6/P4] is noted for large shallow earthquakes.
Here, in earlier times (at the time of separation of Pangaea a super continent), European
and Asian Plates collided with each other and collision resulted in the formation of Ural
Mountains [Atlas 30-J4]. For many centuries, location of Ural Range in the mid of continent
remained a mystery. After the Theory of Plate Tectonics devised, this mystery was resolved.
It is an orogeny (periods of mountain making) of continental type when two plates collide
with each other. Whenever there is any subduction, it results in the formation of Ural

Mountain Range and seismic activity.

Andes Belt
Here, Nazca Sub-Plate is sub-ducting under the South American plate and forming the
lateral range of Andes Mountains in South America [Atlas 19]. This is Cordilleran Type
Orogeny and this is the area of extreme seismic activity. 1906 and 1922 earthquakes in
Chile were destructive enough to cause the loss of thousands of life and destruction of
ports. 1906 earthquake in Columbia and Ecuador was of same activity.
Appalachian Belt
Earthquake in the Appalachian Mountain Range [Atlas 14-K3] in the North American plate is
an example of isostatic kind of earthquake. When the state of balance between the Sialic
crust and the substratum is disturbed, tremors of shallow intensity are reported, like that of
Charleston, South Carolina, in 1886.