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Earthquake Science Explained

A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families

General Interest Product 21

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Geological Survey
Earthquake Science Explained
A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students,
Teachers, and Families

Compiled by Matthew A. d’Alessio

The features in this booklet originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle from Septem-
ber 12 to November 14, 2005, as part of that newspaper’s Chronicle in Education program—a
program to distribute newspapers free to classroom teachers and encourage their use as a
curriculum resource. For information go to:
or call 1-800-499-5700 extension 6828

Contributions by:
Matthew d’Alessio, Mehmet Çelebi, Eric Geist, Russell Graymer, Jeanne Hardebeck,
Thomas Holzer, Jessica Murray, Ann Rosenthal, John Solum, Heidi Stenner
Newspaper activities by:
Elizabeth Coleman (San Francisco Chronicle)
Edited by:
Matthew d’Alessio, Mary Lou Zoback, and nearly two dozen members of the U.S. Geological
Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Team

General Interest Product 21

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of the Interior
Gale A. Norton, Secretary

U.S. Geological Survey

P. Patrick Leahy, Acting Director

U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia: 2006

Available from U.S. Geological Survey Information Services

Box 25286, Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225

This report and any updates to it are available online at:

For additional information write to:

U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25046, Mail Stop 421, Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225–0046

Additional USGS publications can be found at:

For more information about the USGS and its products:

Telephone: 1–888–ASK–USGS (1–888–275–8747)
World Wide Web:

Any use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply
endorsement of the U.S. Government.

Cataloging-in-publication data are on file with the Library of Congress (URL

Produced in the Western Region, Menlo Park, California

Manuscript approved for publication, January 4, 2006
Text edited by Peter Stauffer
Layout and design by Susan Mayfield and Matthew A. d’Alessio

A Message from the Director,

U.S. Geological Survey
Recent images of massive earthquake-induced
waves washing away entire towns or buildings reduced
to rubble by the violent shaking of Earth’s crustal plates
have underlined, all too painfully, the importance of
understanding our dynamic and ever-changing Earth.
These natural earthquake hazards will always be with
us, but the consequences are not inevitable—if we pre-
pare for them. An essential part of that preparation is
education. Education is the key to ensuring that people Director Leahy with instruments at USGS
take appropriate actions when living in earthquake- headquarters that record seismic waves
prone areas and for supporting policies and decisions from earthquakes around the globe.
that will save lives and property.
Earthquake Science Explained is a series of short articles for students, teachers, and parents
originally published as weekly features in The San Francisco Chronicle. This U.S. Geological
Survey General Information Product presents some of the new understanding gained and sci-
entific advances made in the century since the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Concepts
introduced in each feature are designed to address State and national science-education stand-
ards. Written by our scientists, the articles go beyond traditional textbook information to discuss
state-of-the-art thinking and technology that we use today.
I encourage you to explore this informative publication as well as the U.S. Geological Survey’s
science education Web site at, and I further invite you to become our
long-term partners exploring the full range of our science for a changing world.

P. Patrick Leahy

[The articles in the series correlate with the State of California
Science Content Standards, as noted in brackets]


Feature 1 The Earthquake Machine: What 1906 taught us about how earthquakes work ............1
By Matthew d’Alessio
[Grade 6, Sc. 1—Major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic
eruptions, and mountain building, result from plate motions.]

Feature 2 Seismograms: Earthquake Fingerprints ................................................................................2

By Jeanne Hardebeck
[Grade 6, Sc. 1g—How to determine the epicenter of an earthquake and the
effects of an earthquake on any region vary, depending on the size of the earth-
quake, the distance of the region from the epicenter, and the local geology.]

Feature 3 Find the Fault: Recognizing active faults ..............................................................................3

By John Solum and Russell Graymer
[Grade 4, Sc. 5c—Some changes in the earth are due to rapid processes,
such as earthquakes.
Grade 6, Sc. 2d—Students know earthquakes change human and
wildlife habitats.]

Feature 4 Looking into the past with earthquake trenches .................................................................4

By Heidi Stenner
[Grade 6, Sc. 7g—Interpret events by sequence and time from
natural phenomena.]

Feature 5 When will the next big one hit? How do we know? ............................................................5
By Matthew d’Alessio
[Grade 6, Sc. 1—Major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic
eruptions, and mountain building, result from plate motions.]

Feature 6 Liquefaction—When the ground flows ................................................................................6

By Thomas Holzer
[Grade 6, Sc. 1g—The effects of an earthquake on any region vary,
depending on the size of the earthquake, the distance of the region
from the epicenter, and the local geology.]

Feature 7 Bay Area tsunamis: Are we at risk? ......................................................................................7

By Eric Geist and Anne Rosenthal
[Grade 4, Sc. 5a—Waves, wind, water, and ice shape and reshape Earth’s
land surface.
Grade 6, Sc. 2c—Beaches are dynamic systems in which the sand is
moved along the coast by the action of waves.]

Feature 8 An earthquake scientist in action .........................................................................................8

By Jessica Murray
[Grade 6, Sc. 7—Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful
questions and conducting careful investigations.]

Feature 9 How do we make buildings and roads safer? .....................................................................9

By Mehmet Çelebi
[Grade 8, Sc. 2d—Identify separately the two or more forces that are
acting on a single static object, including gravity, elastic forces due to
tension or compression in matter, and friction.]

Feature 10 Putting down roots in earthquake country........................................................................10

By Matthew d’Alessio
[Grade 6, Sc. 1f—Explain major features of California geology (including
mountains and faults) in terms of plate tectonics.
Grade 6, Sc. 2d—Earthquakes change human habitats.]

*All articles are written by scientists and focus on the evidence we collect during our work. They therefore directly
address the important “Investigation and Experiment” California State Science Content Standard for all grade levels:
Grade 4, Sc. 6, Grade 5, Sc. 6, Grade 6, Sc. 7, Grade 7, Sc. 7, Grade 8, Sc. 9, Grades 9 – 12, Science Investigation:

Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a
basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should
develop their own questions and perform investigations.
A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families 1

Earthquake Science—Feature 1 of 10
The Earthquake Machine:
What 1906 taught us about how
earthquakes work
On April 18, 1906, the moved near the fault, the tectonic plates are in
earth moved. Not only did surveyors also discovered constant motion. This plate
the ground shake on the day that much of northern motion is Reid’s missing
of the Great San Francisco California had moved and cause of strain.
earthquake, but land on both distorted during the earth- Two plates can get stuck
sides of the San Andreas quake. The movement together where they meet (at
fault permanently shifted. followed a pattern with most faults), but forces deep
Precise measurements of the of the motion near the fault within the earth drag and
amount of motion led and less motion far away. pull the plates in different
scientists to discover why At the time, nobody knew directions. Faults remain
earthquakes happen. what caused earthquakes. stuck together for many
Fences across the San The survey measurements years as the nearby crust
Andreas fault ripped apart, led a scientist named H. F. deforms and stretches, but
and it was no longer clear Reid to propose one possible eventually the strain is too
who owned the land nearby. explanation. He hypoth- much and the two plates
Surveyors went to mountain esized that strain built up in shift suddenly in an earth-
peaks to relocate the property the earth’s crust like the quake.
boundaries. While the fences stretching of a rubber band. Today, scientists monitor
showed that ground had At some point, the earth the buildup of strain near
would have to snap in an locked faults using satellite
earthquake. The problem observations, and the pattern
was that Reid didn’t know is much like Reid hypoth-
what caused the strain to esized 100 years ago.
build up.
Scientists continued to
survey after the earthquake
and saw that motion contin- By Dr. Matthew d’Alessio
ued throughout California,
providing an important piece U.S. Geological Survey
Fence after 1906 earthquake. of evidence that the Earth’s Earthquake Hazards Team

Plate tectonics: The cycle of earthquakes continues because plates motions continue.

A new fence is built Over many years, plate An earthquake is a sudden
straight across the fault motions cause strain to burst of motion that relieves
at the boundary between build up and deform the the strain and causes
two plates. earth (and fence). shaking.

Resources: Demonstrate the earthquake cycle in your classroom (animations & “The Earthquake
Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, a special insert in The Sunday Chronicle, Sept. 18, 2005,
contains information about making your family safer in the next quake. Also online at:
Newspaper Activity: Land features can change
naturally over time, or more rapidly during an
event such as an earthquake. Read and summa-
rize an article in today's Chronicle that discusses
natural or man-made changes in the land.
2 Earthquake Science Explained

Earthquake Science—Feature 2 of 10
Earthquake Fingerprints

When a fault slips Most earthquakes have

Jan 1, 1998
suddenly in an earth- unique seismograms, like
quake, it releases energy people have unique Aug 10, 2000
in the form of seismic fingerprints. Some groups Oct 20, 2003
waves. Captured by sensi- of small earthquakes have
tive instruments, a seismo- almost identical seismo- Mar 17, 2001
gram is a recording of the grams, which means that
shakes and jolts of these these earthquakes are 2 seconds
passing seismic waves. repeats of exactly the same
Seismograms are like the motion in exactly the same Seismograms from
fingerprints of earthquakes direction in exactly the magnitude 2 earthquakes
same place. on the San Andreas fault.
with patterns that can be
The same patch of fault
matched and decoded to We can find out even slipped 3 separate times,
learn about how earth- more about big earth- producing nearly identical
quakes affect our world. quakes by breaking them seismograms (top 3). A
We know the down into smaller parts. different patch slipped and
earthquake’s magnitude For example, a magnitude has a different fingerprint
from the height of the 6.5 earthquake that hit (bottom). [R. Nadeau, UC Berkeley]
waves, and we can figure Paso Robles in December
out when and where the 2003 released built-up is then the combined
earthquake happened from strain over a fault area 20 fingerprints of all the
the times the waves arrive miles long and 8 miles patches. We use a
at different places. The from top to bottom. You computer to match patterns
exact pattern of the wiggles can think of this area as in the large earthquake’s
is shaped by the individual being like a quilt divided seismogram to figure out
earthquake: how deep it into individual patches. which patches of the fault
was, which direction the The movement of each moved and by how much.
fault moved, and what patch has its own unique Some patches of the
kinds of rocks the waves fingerprint. The seismo- fault did not slip much, so
passed through. gram of a large earthquake we can expect future
earthquakes sooner there.
Paso fault Patches that slipped a lot
Robles already won’t move again
View into San until plate tectonics causes
the Earth Simeon the strain to build back up.
along the
fault of the
December 2003 20 m

earthquake. Arrows iles By Dr. Jeanne Hardebeck


show how much each patch of

fault moved. The largest movement U.S. Geological Survey
was 9 feet. [Chen Ji, UC Santa Barbara] white patches Earthquake Hazards Team
did not slip

Resources: Recent earthquake locations: •

Listening to Seismic Waves (activity to introduce seismic waves): • Virtual Earthquake (online activity to locate
earthquakes using seismic waves):
Newspaper Activity: Advances in technology
have helped scientists better understand
earthquakes. Read today's Chronicle to find an
article about other advances in technology. How
could these advances change your life?
A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families 3

Earthquake Science—Feature 3 of 10

Find the Fault:

Recognizing Active Faults
Faults are where large found a fault.
blocks of the Earth’s However, most faults
crust move past each don’t creep, so geologists
other. At plate boundaries, look for effects faults have
they are most often stuck on the landscape. Natural
tight, but at times they features like streams,
lurch several feet in a great valleys, and ridges can be
earthquake. Living near offset from repeated
faults is a fact of life for earthquakes if they cross
many Californians, but the fault (Photo 2).
how do you recognize an
active fault? Crystal Springs Reservoir
Some faults, called lies within the long, straight
creeping faults, move very valley broken up by the San
slowly all the time. Andreas Fault.
Structures like bridges,
sidewalks, and buildings ridges and valleys to form.
built astride these faults Faults also can disrupt the
will be offset as the faults movement of underground
slowly move (up to a half The stream in this photo is water, forcing it to the
inch each year). You can offset by movement along surface to form springs
find these faults by the San Andreas Fault. As and ponds.
looking for bent or offset the fault continues to move, A lot of these features
curbs and sidewalks (Photo the two parts of the stream are easiest to spot from the
1). Not every offset curb will get farther apart. Also,
air. Our newest tool to find
is a fault, but if you find faults is Laser Imaging
a straight ridge, or “scarp”
several features that all Detection And Ranging
runs along the fault.
line up, you may have (LIDAR), which uses laser
Active faults also make light from an airplane to
their own landscape make a detailed image of
features. If one side of the the ground surface that can
fault moves up or down, it even see through trees in a
creates a long, straight forest. Being able to read
ridge called a “scarp.” As the landscape allows us to
faults move along in pinpoint the exact location
repeated earthquakes, the of dangerous faults.
rock along the fault is
broken and ground down.
This shattered zone is By Dr. John Solum and
more easily eroded than Dr. Russell Graymer
This curb is offset by about the surrounding rocks, so
one foot due to creep on the long valleys can form
Calaveras Fault. The white along the fault (Photo 3). U.S. Geological Survey
triangles point along the fault. So faults can cause both Earthquake Hazards Team

Resources: Visit the San Andreas Fault: Newspaper Activity: Using the Bay Area
A Geology Fieldtrip Guidebook To map on today's Weather Page, look for
Selected Stops On Public Lands, features that could indicate a fault. Which cities are closest to these features? Which
bodies of water?

Want to know more? Visit
4 Earthquake Science Explained

Earthquake Science—Feature 4 of 10
Looking into the Past
With Earthquake Trenches

Do earthquakes tend rest on top of the faulted

to repeat at regular layers were laid down after
intervals? If so, that may the earthquake.
tell us when to expect the Then, if we can figure
next one. Many out when the layers
earthquakes happened long formed, we can figure out
before recorded history; when the earthquake hit.
how can we discover what Geologists look for plant or
happened so long ago? animal remains, like sticks
Geologists look for Scientists dig trenches or bones, in the buried
evidence in the ground across active faults to layers and date them using
below us. Layers of earth look for evidence of the same tools used by
get added, one on top of ancient earthquakes. archeologists.
the other, over time. Like With the information
the pages of a history book, the years after an gathered in the trenches,
each layer records what earthquake, new layers of geologists can tell how
was happening at that time. rock and soil may blanket often earthquakes occur
A layer of round rocks can the area and bury the and even how large past
indicate an ancient river, broken layers below. quakes were. The more
while a layer of mud can To go back in time, scientists know about a
be from an ancient flood. geologists dig trenches up fault's past, the better they
Layers also record to 20 feet deep and 10 feet are able to suggest what
earthquakes. The ground wide and then walk in to may happen in the future.
can shift several feet or observe the layers. If there
more during an earthquake, has been a large quake, the
By Heidi Stenner
disrupting the layers (and sediment will be disrupted
"tearing" the pages of at the fault. Any layers that U.S. Geological Survey
Earth's history book). In are not disturbed and that Earthquake Hazards Team

White arrows Newspaper Activity:

indicate direction Look through today's
blocks moved newspaper for pictures of
in earthquake.
items that you think
should be included in an
Recent earthquake preparedness



kit. Write a paragraph

describing how you made
Old your choices. What is the

recent earthquake past earthquakes total price of the items?

cuts all layers cut only old layers

In April 2006, visitors will walk below ground level to

experience an active fault in downtown Fremont. They’ll see
evidence of an earthquake in 1868 — known as "The Great
San Francisco Earthquake" until the even larger and more
damaging 1906 quake.

Classroom Activity about trenching:
A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families 5

Earthquake Science—Feature 5 of 10
When will the next big one hit?
How do we know?
Plate tectonics causes Scientists have made is like having one leg of a
stress to build up in the hypotheses about several table break – if the objects
Bay Area, which will ways faults might signal on the table are too heavy
eventually be released by that they are about to for the remaining three legs
an earthquake. By measur- rupture. For example, faults to support, another leg will
ing the rate of stress buildup might start moving very eventually snap under the
and the largest stress that slowly before they lurch stress. This is why
the Earth can sustain, we violently in a big earthquake aftershocks occur after a
can predict how many – a lot like a car starting up large earthquake. Scientists
earthquakes will occur at a stoplight. This slow have detected patterns in
during a decade. If we could start could take place over a aftershocks and can now
predict exactly when one whole year or a fraction of a predict how many large
will occur, people could be second. So far, it looks like aftershocks there will be.
better prepared for the the earth starts slipping too This information helped
disaster. But does the earth quickly to give us any San Francisco decide how
give any warning signs that warning, but it's possible many firefighters to keep
an earthquake is coming? If that our instruments aren't on duty during the days
it does, we could record sensitive enough to detect after the 1989 earthquake.
those signals on scientific this motion. Sometimes an aftershock
instruments. Scientists have success- can even be bigger than the
fully observed one type of first earthquake. When a
warning sign that helps small earthquake occurs,
them predict earthquakes – scientists predict the odds
Map from other earthquakes. Some- that the earthquake is a
Sept. 30, 2005
times, one earthquake can warning sign that a larger
trigger another one. earthquake will hit soon.
Imagine that an earthquake These odds are based on
the earthquake's magnitude
and the seismic history of
What's the probability
the fault on which it
of an earthquake occurred. If the chance is
happening large enough, the govern-
today? ment issues a warning.
There are lots of unan-
An earthquake swered questions, and we
is more likely to are always looking for new,
happen in the creative ways to measure
dark areas. what the Earth is doing.

Probability of Exceeding MMI VI Shaking By Dr. Matthew d’Alessio

U.S. Geological Survey
See today’s map at: Earthquake Hazards Team

Newspaper Activity: Earthquake scientists

have tried to use Earth's clues to predict
earthquakes. Using today's Chronicle, read
the headlines of a few articles to try to
predict what the articles are about. Were
your predictions correct?
6 Earthquake Science Explained

Earthquake Science—Feature 6 of 10

When the ground flows
After the 1989 Loma were built on wet sand flowed down hill slopes
Prieta earthquake, a layers. This sand had been and snapped buried water
fireman on Treasure Island deposited not long ago pipes. With so many water
(in the middle of San either by rivers and creeks pipes broken, firefighters
Francisco Bay) told me his or by humans making new in San Francisco did not
earthquake experience. He land by dumping sand into have enough water to
saw water spurting out of water bodies. Normally douse the fire. It raged out
the ground from many such sandy soil provides of control for three days.
places, and his greatest fear excellent support for Firefighters even blasted
during the earthquake was buildings, but earthquake buildings with dynamite to
that he might drown. shaking jiggles the sand try to form fire breaks.
As I listened, I was think- and squeezes the water Today, many neighbor-
ing how ironic this was. trapped between the grains hoods around San Francisco
Only a few miles away in so much that the layer Bay are built on sandy soils.
San Francisco, the same begins to act like a muddy Geologists are busy
natural phenomenon that liquid. We call this process mapping soil types to
triggered the spurting water liquefaction. identify areas that might be
in the 1989 earthquake In 1989, the fireman on at risk for liquefaction.
contributed to the fire that Treasure Island witnessed They push probes more
burned about 500 city one effect of liquefaction, than 100 feet down into the
blocks in San Francisco as muddy water spurted soil, measuring how the
after the 1906 earthquake. from the ground like the probes slide into the earth.
In both 1989 and 1906, violent squeezing of a This tells them how much
buildings and streets had sponge. In 1906, the sand is present and how
lots of damage where they liquefied sandy soils firmly it is packed together.
Engineers and planners can
use this information to
make our community safer
for the next time an earth-
quake shakes the Bay Area.

By Dr. Thomas Holzer

The fire that destroyed 500 city blocks after the 1906 quake
raged out of control because liquefaction broke water pipes U.S. Geological Survey
that were needed by firemen to fight the fire. Earthquake Hazards Team

Newspaper Activity: Liquefaction in your and level the sand surface.

This feature recounts a classroom: Take a large Gently place a brick on
fireman's observations of rubber dish pan and fill it the sand so that it stands
liquefaction. Read today's about one-quarter full with up on its end like a
Chronicle to find an article tap water. Then add sand skyscraper. Tap the side of
in which a personal with the texture of table salt the pan with a mallet with
experience was used to until the sand surface a series of quick taps.
discuss a fact or theory. reaches the water level. Stir What happens to the
Write a summary of the the sand as you pour it into brick?
article you chose. the water to remove bubbles

Related activities: See Lesson 6 of
for an explanation and liquefaction maps.
A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families 7

Earthquake Science—Feature 7 of 10

Bay Area Tsunamis:

Are we at risk?
The infamous 1906 San vertical movement. When West Coast/Alaska Tsunami
Francisco Earthquake the ocean floor moved Warning Center would alert
began when a tiny section of down, it created a tsunami. authorities in time to
the 1300 km-long San Luckily for San Francis- evacuate coastal regions.
Andreas fault began to cans already suffering the Although San Francisco
rupture. That initial break- effects of a major earth- Bay is sheltered by its
known as the hypocenter- quake, the 1906 tsunami narrow entrance at the
occurred just offshore of San wasn’t a large one. In fact, it Golden Gate, tsunamis can
Francisco. Although most measured only 10 centime- still enter the bay and result
of the movement was ters high when it arrived at in strong currents.
strike-slip (with blocks of the San Francisco tide gauge We have tsunami danger
crust moving horizontally) station near Crissy Field. from another source as well:
there was a small amount of Does that mean there’s no a local earthquake could
tsunami danger in the Bay trigger coastal or underwa-
Before earthquake Area? Not exactly! Our ter landslides, potentially
greatest tsunami danger leading to dangerous waves.
Ocean comes from subduction If you feel shaking, be sure
Seafloor zones similar to the one that to leave the beach, even if
Vertical movement generated the 2004 Indian no official alerts you!
of seafloor Initial Ocean tsunami, where one What about that 10
wave tectonic plate dives beneath centimeter 1906 tsunami?
another. When an offshore To scientists it was impor-
Fault earthquake occurs along a tant; that single tide gauge
subduction zone, a large record helped them to
Waves travel section of ocean floor moves decipher how the offshore
vertically, generating a portion of the San Andreas
tsunami. Tsunamis from fault moved during the
subduction zone earthquakes Great 1906 Earthquake.
Inundation as far away as Alaska or
Japan, for example, can hit
Bay Area shores. In 1964, a Eric Geist and
Anne Rosenthal
large earthquake in Alaska
Tsunamis occur when the caused waves 6 meters high U.S. Geological Survey
ocean floor moves in northern California, Coastal and Marine Geology
vertically. killing 11 people. Today, the Program

Newspaper Activity: Tsunamis in your class- which waves move. Add

Tsunami is a word of room: Take a glass baking more water and make new
Japanese origin meaning dish (9” x 13” or larger) or waves. How does the
harbor wave. American clear rubber tub and fill speed of the waves vary
English has adopted many with enough water to at with the depth of water in
words of non-English least cover the bottom. Tip the dish? The same is true
origin. How many one end up and gently let for tsunamis! Tsunamis
non-English words can the dish down to rest on the travel at different speeds in
you find in today's counter to generate waves. the deep Pacific Ocean
Chronicle? Use a ruler and stop-watch than they do in the shallow
to calculate the speed at San Francisco Bay.

Find out more: 1906 tsunami simulation:
8 Earthquake Science Explained

Earthquake Science—Feature 8 of 10

An Earthquake Scientist in
Action: Jessica Murray
I’m a geophysicist mountains or broken by
working with the Earth- faults like the San Andreas.
quake Hazards Team at the I also knew that I wanted to
U.S. Geological Survey in do scientific investigations
Menlo Park. Although my that were important for
father is a geologist, I society in general – not just
didn’t know I wanted to other geologists.
become an earth scientist For those reasons I chose
until I took an introductory to attend graduate school to
geology course in college. study a branch of geophys-
I was fascinated with ics called “crustal deforma- but are specialized for
understanding how differ- tion.” I learned to make scientific applications. We
ent types of rocks are and use measurements that can tell exactly where a
formed and change through tell us how the Earth’s crust location on Earth is to
various processes, is distorted, or deformed, within about half the
especially the tectonic around faults and volca- diameter of a dime.
forces that cause earth- noes. With this informa- A great thing about being
quakes. tion we can determine an earth scientist is the
As an earth science where strain is building that opportunity to travel all
major in college I took may be released in an over the world to investigate
courses in many different earthquake, or recognize unique geological features. I
aspects of geology. When I that a volcano is inflating get to work in a wide range
graduated I knew I wanted and may erupt soon. of environments. Many of
to pursue a career in the One of the ways we us do “field work” at least
field, but wasn’t sure in monitor the slow move- part of the year. This
what to specialize. I did ment of the Earth’s surface involves going to different
know that my favorite is with Global Positioning locations, like near a fault or
courses had been about System (GPS) instruments. a volcano, and making
“structural geology” which These instruments are measurements or taking
is the way in which rocks similar to what people use samples.
are slowly folded to form while camping or boating, For me, the best part is
that I know the work I do
will help us better under-
Precise measure- stand the earthquake cycle
ments using this and the hazards from large
GPS instrument help earthquakes.
Dr. Jessica Murray
monitor the motion By Dr. Jessica Murray
of active faults.
U.S. Geological Survey
Earthquake Hazards Team

Newspaper Activity: Dr. Murray describes why she is a geophysicist and what a
geophysicist does. Look through today's Chronicle for articles mentioning different
jobs and classified job listings for jobs that you might like to have. Write a paragraph
about each of the jobs that interest you.
Related Resources:
A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families 9

Earthquake Science—Feature 9 of 10

How do we make buildings

and roads safer?
Bay Area residents and We retrofit buildings and make a building stronger.
visitors observe gigantic roads that were built using Walls and foundations are
construction projects along older techniques with designed to support the
our roads and bridges each designs that are less safe. weight of the rest of the
day. Many of these projects Generally, it is cheaper and building pushing down on
are “seismic retrofits.” A less disruptive to retrofit them. Earthquake shaking,
retrofit is a change in design before hand than try to however, pushes buildings
and construction so that there repair a structure damaged side-to-side—a direction
are improvements; seismic by an earthquake. that they are not always
retrofit means changes are There are many ways a designed to withstand.
made to a structure to reduce structure can be retrofitted, Shear walls and cross
or eliminate loss of life and but two main ideas are bracing (Pictures 1 and 2)
property during an earth- most common. Sometimes, provide strength and
quake. the best approach is to stiffness to resist future
earthquakes. Shear walls
1 2 No With can strengthen individual
retrofit retrofit houses the same way they
do for large buildings.
Another way to protect
a building is to isolate it
from the ground—a lot
like adding shock absorb-
ers to its foundation. The
ground can move back
and forth during shaking,
Cross-bracing strengthens During earth movement, even
but the building stays still
the walls of this office though the upper floors look
building at the USGS in fine (above left), the weak first
(Pictures 3 and 4).
Menlo Park. Bracing can floor could snap; strengthen- Because each building
also be added inside walls. ing it (above right) allows the has unique architecture
whole building to flex gently. and a unique setting,
there is a different retrofit
3 4 solution that's right in
First floor of each case. Earthquake
Building building engineers are people who
Isolator come up with creative
Ground new ways to make these
Ground below buildings safer than ever
building before.
flexes as By Dr. Mehmet Çelebi
moves Isolators
U.S. Geological Survey
Base isolation allows the Engineers install instruments Earthquake Hazards Team
building to shake a lot less that record shaking to test if
than the ground beneath it. their retrofit designs worked.

Newspaper Activity: This feature uses

photos and graphics so readers can visualize
the information in the text. Read today's
Chronicle to find an article without a photo
or graphic. Draw a picture and write a
caption to accompany the article you chose.
10 Earthquake Science Explained

Earthquake Science—Feature 10 of 10

Putting Down Roots in

Earthquake Country
If you live in the Bay be a good candidate for a
Area, you live in earth- seismic retrofit. Try not to be scared of
quake country. Earth- Earthquakes may seem a earthquakes – instead,
quakes have helped sculpt little frightening, but you be prepared!
the Bay Area's natural can do a lot to prepare
beauty – from it's dramatic yourself. Start by knowing 1. Prevent things from
ocean shoreline to the steep what to expect: a major falling on your head
slopes of the East Bay hills earthquake will have a huge during earthquake
and Santa Cruz mountains. impact. The power will go shaking by moving heavy
Slight curves and bends in out as power stations are objects away from high
plate boundary faults cause damaged, water may stop places — especially
the peaks to grow as plates flowing as pipes break, above your bed or desk.
slide past one another. some roads and bridges
Most of the time (when may be unusable, and 2. Create a family disaster
faults are locked tight), the phones may not function in plan. Discuss where you
mountains stay still. When your neighborhood. will meet, and don’t
an earthquake happens, the expect to rely on phones
mountains rise suddenly in (cell, landline, or Internet)
n Roots in
a dramatic growth spurt that Putting Dow to get in touch after a
Co untry
may push them a few inches Earthquake for the quake. It may be easier to
Your handbo
or a few feet higher. These o Bay Region reach a friend outside
San Francisc
violent events that shape our California, so know her
landscape make the Bay phone number and have
Area a beautiful place to your family use her as a
live, but also pose a hazard central contact point.
to people living here. rest
Large, damaging earth- General Inte 3. Create a disaster kit.
bl ic at io n 15
quakes will likely strike the Have enough food and
Bay Area during your water for the entire family
Want to know how to make
lifetime. Building codes and for at least three days.
your family safer? Order a
innovative construction free earthquake prepared-
techniques make structures 4. When you feel an
ness handbook online: earthquake, drop to the
a lot safer in the Bay Area
than in many other parts of ground, take cover, and
the world, so we don't Being prepared for these hold on. Shaking makes it
expect the next large events will make your hard to move around, so
earthquake to claim as family safer. The box to the don’t try to run.
many lives as the recent right shows five quick and 5. After a quake, be ready
earthquakes in Asia. inexpensive things you can to help others in your
However, many buildings in do now to get prepared.
the Bay Area were built
By Dr. Matthew d’Alessio
before modern building
codes. Depending on when U.S. Geological Survey
your home was built, it may Earthquake Hazards Team

Newspaper Activity: Using the Weather Page

of today’s Chronicle, mark on the Bay Area
map the locations of your family members
during week days. Then determine a meeting
location during a disaster. What form of
transportation will your family members use
to get there? How far will they travel?

Find what you need— For kids only. . .

Maps • Earthquakes • Volcanoes • Landslides

d’Alessio, ed.—Earthquake Science Explained—U.S. Geological Survey General Interest Product 21

• Tsunamis • Wildfires •
• Astrogeology and more!

Coastal Storms • Water Resources • Biology

USGS Education Portal Earthquakes4Kids
Looking for a USGS resource for education? Find answers to your questions about
Start here! Information about USGS earthquakes. Plus puzzles, games,
resources organized by topic or keyed to and more!
state science standards.

Download this booklet online:

Take more field trips!

Rock Stories Schoolyard Mapping



10 meters

Building Pavement Tree

Grass Art Wall Sidewalk

GeoSleuth 100 km

Murder 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
MMI Shaking Intensity


Schoolyard Geology Virtual Teaching Box
Urban schoolyards full of asphalt may seem Learn how and why earthquakes cause
unlikely field trip destinations, but this website damage. This complete curriculum has
shows you how to unlock the history of the classroom activities, background informa-
ground beneath your feet. tion, and the glue that ties it all together.