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Causes of earthquakes

An earthquake (also known as a quake, tremor or temblor) is the shaking of the surface
of the Earth, resulting from the sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere that
creates seismic waves. Earthquakes can range in size from those that are so weak that they
cannot be felt to those violent enough to toss people around and destroy whole cities.
The seismicity or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes
experienced over a period of time. The word tremor is also used for non-earthquake seismic
At the Earth's surface, earthquakes manifest themselves by shaking and sometimes
displacement of the ground. When the epicenter of a large earthquake is located offshore, the
seabed may be displaced sufficiently to cause a tsunami. Earthquakes can also trigger landslides,
and occasionally volcanic activity.
In its most general sense, the word earthquake is used to describe any seismic event
whether natural or caused by humans that generates seismic waves. Earthquakes are caused
mostly by rupture of geological faults, but also by other events such as volcanic activity,
landslides, mine blasts, and nuclear tests. An earthquake's point of initial rupture is called
its focus or hypocenter. The epicenter is the point at ground level directly above the hypoc
Naturally occurring earthquakes :

Tectonic earthquakes occur anywhere in the earth where there is sufficient stored elastic
strain energy to drive fracture propagation along a fault plane. The sides of a fault move past
each other smoothly and aseismically only if there are no irregularities or asperities along the
fault surface that increase the frictional resistance. Most fault surfaces do have such asperities
and this leads to a form of stick-slip behavior. Once the fault has locked, continued relative
motion between the plates leads to increasing stress and therefore, stored strain energy in the
volume around the fault surface. This continues until the stress has risen sufficiently to break
through the asperity, suddenly allowing sliding over the locked portion of the fault, releasing
the stored energy. This energy is released as a combination of radiated elastic strain seismic
waves, frictional heating of the fault surface, and cracking of the rock, thus causing an

Earthquake fault types

There are three main types of fault, all of which may cause an interplate earthquake: normal,
reverse (thrust) and strike-slip. Normal and reverse faulting are examples of dip-slip, where the
displacement along the fault is in the direction of dip and movement on them involves a vertical
component. Normal faults occur mainly in areas where the crust is being extended such as
a divergent boundary. Reverse faults occur in areas where the crust is being shortened such as at
a convergent boundary. Strike-slip faults are steep structures where the two sides of the fault slip
horizontally past each other; transform boundaries are a particular type of strike-slip fault. Many
earthquakes are caused by movement on faults that have components of both dip-slip and strike-
slip; this is known as oblique slip.
Reverse faults, particularly those along convergent plate boundaries are associated with the most
powerful earthquakes, megathrust earthquakes, including almost all of those of magnitude 8 or
more. Strike-slip faults, particularly continental transforms, can produce major earthquakes up to
about magnitude 8. Earthquakes associated with normal faults are generally less than magnitude
7. For every unit increase in magnitude, there is a roughly thirtyfold increase in the energy
released. For instance, an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 releases approximately 30 times more
energy than a 5.0 magnitude earthquake and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake releases 900 times (30 ×
30) more energy than a 5.0 magnitude of earthquake. An 8.6 magnitude earthquake releases the
same amount of energy as 10,000 atomic bombs like those used in World War II.

Earthquakes away from plate boundaries

Where plate boundaries occur within the continental lithosphere, deformation is spread out over
a much larger area than the plate boundary itself. In the case of the San Andreas fault continental
transform, many earthquakes occur away from the plate boundary and are related to strains
developed within the broader zone of deformation caused by major irregularities in the fault trace
(e.g., the "Big bend" region). The Northridge earthquake was associated with movement on a
blind thrust within such a zone.

Why Do Earthquakes Happen?

The earth has four major layers: the inner core, outer core, mantle and crust. The crust and
the top of the mantle make up a thin skin on the surface of our planet. But this skin is not all in
one piece – it is made up of many pieces like a puzzle covering the surface of the earth. Not only
that, but these puzzle pieces keep slowly moving around, sliding past one another and bumping
into each other. We call these puzzle pieces tectonic plates, and the edges of the plates are called
the plate boundaries. The plate boundaries are made up of many faults, and most of the
earthquakes around the world occur on these faults. Since the edges of the plates are rough, they
get stuck while the rest of the plate keeps moving. Finally, when the plate has moved far enough,
the edges unstick on one of the faults and there is an earthquake.
Earthquake-like seismic waves can also be caused by explosions underground. These
explosions may be set off to break rock while making tunnels for roads, railroads, subways, or
mines. These explosions, however, don't cause very strong seismic waves. You may not even
feel them. Sometimes seismic waves occur when the roof or walls of a mine collapse. These can
sometimes be felt by people near the mine. The largest underground explosions, from tests of
nuclear warheads (bombs), can create seismic waves very much like large earthquakes. This fact
has been exploited as a means to enforce the global nuclear test ban, because no nuclear warhead
can be detonated on earth without producing such seismic waves.

Causes of Earthquake
Almost every year, earthquakes are recorded in various parts of the world. Since the shear
and tear forces are always constant within the earth’s plate tectonics, earthquakes can occur at
any time. Thousands of minor tremors often take place just because of these constant

Earthquakes develop simply when the underground rocks (plate tectonics) unexpectedly
break along fault lines. Earthquakes are measured using observations from seismometers.
Earthquakes are, thus, caused by tectonic plate movements, volcanic activity or underground
1. Plate Tectonic Movements

Plate tectonic movements cause the majority of the earthquakes. The movements occur
because the plates float on the hotter and denser rock of the mantle. Consequently, these plates
are usually in constant movement – past or from each other within the earth’s crust.

When these plates (rocks) break or slide past each other at boundaries known as fault lines,
they release shock waves. The shock waves are results of the energy stored in the earth crust due
to the underground pressure of the earth’s inner core.

Aside from the shock waves, the tectonic plate movements snag on coarse patches of rock
and pull at entangled sections that further crack the earth’s crust, producing more faults near the
boundaries of the plates. After some period, the build up energy and movement generates great
tensions in the plates and builds pressure on the fault lines. The intense pressure from the shock
waves makes the fault lines to collapse, and the plates move over, up and against each other.

As a result, an earthquake occurs when the pressure build up along the fault lines becomes
stronger than the force holding the tectonic plates together. This happens when the rocks (plates)
suddenly rip apart or fall on either side at ultrasonic speeds releasing the pent-up pressure which
moves outward in all directions.

When it reaches the earth’s surface, an earthquake occurs which is in the form of ripples
(seismic waves) of escaping energy. The rippling effect is what causes the rapid and violent
vibration of the earth surface – earthquake, shaking and tearing everything on it including the
earth surface itself, structures, and houses.

Majority of the earthquakes originate along the edges of the plates and occur in some regions
more frequently than others. The National Geographic reports that 80% of the earthquakes occur
around the edge of the Pacific plate in Japan, Canada, USA, Papua New Guinea, South America,
and New Zealand. Earthquakes severity also differs depending on the amount of stored energy
released and the extent of faulting. Geologists believe there is no regularity in the occurrence of

Aftershocks may as well be experienced after earthquake events. Aftershocks refer to smaller
shock waves that result from the adjustment of the crust after the principal shock. The
aftershocks can worsen the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake outcomes.

2. Volcanic Activity

Apart from tectonic plate movements, volcanic activity can significantly cause massive
earthquakes. Earthquakes normally accompany escaping magma as it rises to the crust during a
volcanic eruption. This is mainly due to the sudden displacement and shaking of underground
Volcanic activity also creates fault lines and underground disturbances that can instigate the
sudden ripping or falling of the tectonic plates, thus, releasing the pent-up pressure which moves
outwards in all directions.

3. Underground Explosions

Seismic waves (wave shocks) similar to the ones causing earthquakes can be generated by
underground explosions. These explosions can be as a result of underground mining or during
the construction of railroads, subways, or underground tunnels. However, some of the seismic
waves produced by these activities are not as strong as those produced by real earthquakes.

Per se, they can only be felt within the adjacent areas. On the other hand, underground
nuclear tests are known to be very dangerous and can produce powerful seismic waves similar to
that of a natural earthquake. For this reason, underground nuclear tests have been banned

Where do earthquakes occur?

If we look at the pattern of where earthquakes occur around the world, it is clear that most of
the earthquake activity is concentrated in a number of distinct earthquake belts.

For instance, there are many earthquakes recorded around the edge of the Pacific Ocean, or
in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

These earthquake belts provide an important clue in the development of the theory of plate

The outer shell of the Earth, or crust (continental and oceanic) and the upper part of
the mantle, is made up of a number of rigid segments called tectonic plates. These plates are
continually moving at rates of a few centimetres per year (about as fast as your fingernails grow),
driven by forces deep within the Earth.

Below the tectonic plates, lies the Earth’s asthenosphere. The asthenosphere behaves like a
fluid over very long time scales. There are a number of competing theories that attempt to
explain what drives the movement of tectonic plates.
At the boundaries between the plates, where they are moving together, apart or past each
other, tremendous stresses build up, and are where most earthquakes occur.
How are earthquakes recorded?

Earthquakes are recorded by instruments called seismographs. The recording they make is
called a seismogram. The seismograph has a base that sets firmly in the ground, and a heavy
weight that hangs free. When an earthquake causes the ground to shake, the base of the
seismograph shakes too, but the hanging weight does not. Instead the spring or string that it is
hanging from absorbs all the movement. The difference in position between the shaking part of
the seismograph and the motionless part is what is recorded.

How can scientists tell where the earthquake happened?

Seismograms come in handy for locating earthquakes too, and being able to see the P
waveand the S wave is important. You learned how P & S waves each shake the ground in
different ways as they travel through it. P waves are also faster than S waves, and this fact is
what allows us to tell where an earthquake was. To understand how this works, let’s compare P
and S waves to lightning and thunder. Light travels faster than sound, so during a thunderstorm
you will first see the lightning and then you will hear the thunder. If you are close to the
lightning, the thunder will boom right after the lightning, but if you are far away from the
lightning, you can count several seconds before you hear the thunder. The further you are from
the storm, the longer it will take between the lightning and the thunder.

Can scientists predict earthquakes?

No, and it is unlikely they will ever be able to predict them. Scientists have tried many
different ways of predicting earthquakes, but none have been successful. On any particular fault,
scientists know there will be another earthquake sometime in the future, but they have no way of
telling when it will happen.

Can scientists predict earthquakes?

No, and it is unlikely they will ever be able to predict them. Scientists have tried many
different ways of predicting earthquakes, but none have been successful. On any particular fault,
scientists know there will be another earthquake sometime in the future, but they have no way of
telling when it will happen.

Is there such a thing as earthquake weather? Can some animals or people tell when an
earthquake is about to hit?

These are two questions that do not yet have definite answers. If weather does affect
earthquake occurrence, or if some animals or people can tell when an earthquake is coming, we
do not yet understand how it works.
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