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SGES 1302

Lecture 18: Earthquakes 1
Earthquakes are natural vibrations of the ground, some of which
are caused by movement along faults in Earths crust.
Most earthquakes are the result of movement of Earths crust
produced by plate tectonics.
As a whole, tectonic plates tend to move gradually.
Along the boundaries between two plates, rocks in the crust often
resist movement.
Over time, stress builds up. Stress is the total force acting on
crustal rocks per unit of area.
When stress overcomes the strength of the rocks involved,
movement occurs along fractures in the rocks, releasing the
energy built up as a result of stress.
The vibrations caused by this sudden movement are felt as
an earthquake.
The characteristics of earthquakes are determined by the orientation
and magnitude of stress applied to rocks, and by the strength of the
rocks involved.


Explain what you know about what

earthquakes are and how they occur.
What are the vibrations of the ground
during an earthquake called? List and
explain briefly the waves.

Distribution of Earthquakes Frequency of
Occurrence of

Magnitude Annual Ave

>8 1
7 - 7.9 15
6 - 6.9 134
5 - 5.9 1319
4 - 4.9 13,000
3 - 3.9 130,000
2 - 2.9 1,300,000

Concentration of earthquakes worldwide near plate boundaries, with a small but significant
number of intra-plate quakes.
Almost 80 percent of all earthquakes occur on the Circum-Pacific Belt and about 15
percent on the Mediterranean-Asian Belt across southern Europe and Asia.
Deadliest Eartquakes (wikipedia)
No Name Date Location Fatalities Magnitude
1 Shaanxi Jan 23, 1556 Shaanxi, China 820,000830,000 8.0 (est.)
2 Tangshan Jul 28, 1976 Tangshan, China 242,419779,000 7.57.8
3 Antioch May 21, 525 Antioch, Turkey 250,000 8.0 (est.)
4 Gansu Dec 16, 1920 NingxiaGansu, China 235,500 7.8
5 Indian Ocean Dec 26, 2004 Indian Ocean, Sumatra 230,210+ 9.19.3
6 Aleppo Oct 11, 1138 Aleppo, Syria 230,000 Unknown
7 Haiti Jan 12, 2010 Haiti 222,570 7.0
8 Damghan Dec 22, 856 Damghan, Iran 200,000 7.9 (est.)
9 Ardabil Mar 22, 893 Ardabil, Iran 150,000 Unknown
10 Great Kant Sep 1, 1923 Kant region, Japan 142,000 7.9
11 Messina Dec 28, 1908 Messina, Italy 123,000 7.1
12 Ashgabat Oct 6, 1948 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 110,000 7.3
13 Genroku Dec 31, 1703 Edo, Japan 108,800 Unknown
14 Lisbon Nov 1, 1755 Lisbon, Portugal 10,000100,000 8.59.0 (est.)

2011 Thoku earthquake and tsunami
Also known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was a
magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast
of Japan that occurred on Friday, 11 March 2011
The epicenter approximately 70 km east of the Oshika
Peninsula of Thoku at depth of ~32 km
It was the most powerful known earthquake to have hit
Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the
world overall since modern record-keeping began in 1900.
The earthquake triggered extremely destructive tsunami waves
of up to 40.5 m. In some cases traveling up to 10 km inland.
In addition to loss of life and destruction of infrastructure, the
tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the
level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima I Nuclear
Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones
affecting hundreds of thousands of residents.
The overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the
most expensive natural disaster on record. 6
2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
and tsunami
It was an undersea megathrust earthquake that
occurred on Sunday, December 26, 2004, with an
epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra
The earthquake was caused by subduction and triggered a
series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most
landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean
The tsunami killed over 230,000 people in fourteen
countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves
up to 30 meters
It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded
history. Indonesia was the hardest hit, followed by Sri Lanka,
India, and Thailand.
With a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3, it is the third
largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph.
This earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever
observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. 7
2008 Sichuan earthquake
It was a deadly earthquake that measured at 8.0 occurred on
Monday, May 12, 2008 in Sichuan province of China, killing an
estimated 68,000 people.
It is also known as the Wenchuan earthquake, after the location of
the earthquake's epicenter, Wenchuan County in Sichuan
The epicenter was 80 kilometres (50 mi) west-northwest of
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, with a focal depth of 19 km.
The earthquake was also felt in nearby countries and as far away
as both Beijing and Shanghai;1,500 km and 1,700 km away
where office buildings swayed with the tremor.
The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, though the
number could be as high as 11 million.
Strong aftershocks, some exceeding magnitude 6, continued to hit
the area even months after the main quake, causing new
casualties and damage.
The central government announced that it will spend 1 trillion yuan
(about US$146.5 billion) to rebuild areas ravaged by the 8
Types of seismic waves
The vibrations of the ground during an earthquake are
called seismic waves.
Every earthquake generates three types of seismic
primary waves,
secondary waves, and
surface waves.
Primary waves, also referred to as P-waves, squeeze
and push rocks in the direction along which the waves
are traveling.
The compressional movement of P-waves is similar to
the movement along a loosely coiled wire.
Secondary waves, called S-waves, are named with
respect to their arrival times. They are slower than P-
waves, so they are the second set of waves to be felt.
S-waves have a motion that causes rocks to move at
right angles in relation to the direction of the waves.
The movement of S-waves is similar to the movement
of a jump rope that is jerked up and down at one end.

Types of seismic waves
Surface waves are the slowest
type of waves, which travel only
along Earths surface.
Surface waves can cause the
ground to move sideways and up
and down like ocean waves
These waves usually cause the
most destruction because they
cause the most movement of the
ground, and take the longest
time to pass.

Seismograms provide a
record of the seismic waves
that pass a certain point.

Generation of seismic waves
The first body waves generated by an
earthquake spreads out from the point of
failure of crustal rocks.
The point where the waves originate is the
focus of the earthquake.
The focus is usually several kilometers below
Earths surface.
The point on Earths surface directly
above the focus is the epicenter .
Surface waves originate from the epicenter
and spread out.
After a major earthquake, rocks around the
focus continue to shake as they readjust to
their new positions, producing numerous,
often smaller earthquakes known as
The speed of the seismic waves and the
distance travelled are affected by the
properties of the Earth material.

Describe briefly the 3 methods on how
earthquakes are measured?
How are earthquakes located (epicenter)-
describe briefly how it is done.

Measuring Earthquakes
Magnitude and intensity of earthquakes can be
determined by various ways.
The Richter scale, devised by Charles Richter in 1935, is
a numerical rating system that measures the energy of
the largest seismic waves, called the magnitude, that are
produced during an earthquake.
The numbers in the Richter scale are determined by the
height, called the amplitude.
The amplitude is the largest seismic wave traced on a
seismogram of a Wood-Anderson seismograph placed
100 km away from the epicenter.
Each successive number represents an increase in
amplitude of a factor of 10 (logarithmic scale).
A magnitude 1.0 earthquake would swing the arm of a
Wood-Anderson seismograph 1/1000 mm; magnitude 2.0
1/100 mm and so on.
Each increase in magnitude corresponds to about a 33- 13
fold increase in seismic energy.
Measuring Earthquakes
Moment magnitude scale most commonly used today.
The moment magnitude scale is a rating scale that measures
the energy released by an earthquake, taking into account the
size of the fault rupture,the amount of movement along the
fault, and the rocks strength.
It is more accurate than the Richter scale, especially at higher
magnitudes because it is calculated directly using information
from the source, while Richter scale is calculated from the
amplitude resulted from an earthquake.
Modified Mercalli scale describes the intensity earthquakes
with respect to the amount of damage they cause descriptive
scale based on observation.
It rates the types of damage and other effects of an earthquake
as noted by observers during and after its occurrence.
It cannot be used to determine:
The epicenter accurately,
The actual magnitude of the earthquake,
The intensity in places where no people live.
Modified Mercalli Intensity scale
I. Instrumental Generally not felt by people unless in favorable conditions.
II. Weak Felt only by a few people at best, suspended objects may swing.
III. Slight Felt quite noticeably by people indoors. Vibration similar to the passing of a truck.
IV. Moderate Felt indoors by many people, outdoors by few people during the day. Dishes, windows, doors
disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing
cars rock noticeably.
V. Rather Strong Felt outside by most. Dishes and windows may break. Vibrations like large train passing
close to house.
VI. Strong Felt by all; many frightened and run outdoors, walk unsteadily. Windows, dishes, glassware
broken; books fall off shelve. Damage slight.
VII. Very Strong Difficult to stand; furniture broken; damage slight to moderate in well-built ordinary
structures; considerable damage in poorly built structures; some chimneys broken. Noticed
by people driving motor cars.
VIII. Destructive Considerable in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly
built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy
furniture moved.
IX. Violent General panic; damage considerable in specially designed structures. Damage great in
substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.
X. Intense Some well built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed
with foundation. Rails bent.
XI. Extreme Few, if any masonry structures remain standing. Bridges destroyed. Rails bent greatly.
XII. Cataclysmic Total destruction Everything is destroyed. Objects thrown into the air.

Locating an Earthquake
The epicenters location, as well as the time
of occurrence, can be determined using
seismograms and travel-time curves.
P-waves reach a seismograph station before the
S-waves and the gap in their arrival times will
be greater when the distance traveled is longer.
Seismologists determine the distance to an
earthquakes epicenter by measuring the
separation on a seismogram and plot
the separation time on the travel-time graph.
A circle is plotted around the seismic station with
a radius equal to the distance to the epicenter.
When data from 3 or more seismic stations are
available, the intersection marks the
epicenter. 16

Explain what you know about what

earthquakes are and how they occur.
What are the vibrations of the ground
during an earthquake called? List and
explain briefly the waves.

Describe briefly the 3 methods on how
earthquakes are measured?
How are earthquakes located (epicenter)-
describe briefly how it is done.