Science - Nature
By: - at April 9, 2014

15 Fascinating Facts about Earthquakes

Earthquakes, which occur in both hemispheres, are natural occurrences that can't be avoided. Even though seismic equipment is used to predict a trembler, it still can't prevent the mass destruction that results from the natural event. Because the earth's tectonic plates are continually moving and shifting, earthquake activity must continuously be monitored and tracked. Stories and legends have also sprung up as the result of earthquakes, including a number of interesting data and facts. The following information provides further details about this earth-shattering phenomenon.

March 2011 - Search and Rescue Workers Arrive in Ofunato, Japan:
March 2011 - Search and Rescue Workers Arrive in Ofunato, Japan

15)  Japanese Mythology Holds a Catfish Responsible for Earthquakes
Before scientists discovered that earthquakes were caused by the shifting of plates beneath the Earth's mantle, ancient societies came up with their own explanations. As a results, several societies resorted to using mythological reasons for the shaking and rattling of the earth. According to the Japanese, earthquakes were caused by a giant catfish named Namazu.

Namazu or Catfish Motif Earthquake Piece (1855):
Namazu or Catfish Motif Earthquake Piece (1855)

Namazu was the ideal way to explain why the ground shook as the giant catfish also offered a reason for tsunamis too. Because fish were eaten by the Japanese regularly, it really wasn't surprising that a catfish caused the major tremblers to occur. Imagining the size of the catfish was beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, Namazu was an easy way to explain away the seismic activity through mythological means.

Depicts the Deity Ebisu Falling Asleep While Guarding the Foundation Stone, Allowing Namazu to Destroy Edo (1855):
Depicts the Deity Ebisu Falling Asleep While Guarding the Foundation Stone, Allowing Namazu to Destroy Edo (1855)

14)  According to Hindu Mythology, Earthquakes Are Caused by a Stack of Animals
Since earthquakes were not isolated to just the Japanese islands, the Hindu culture also started creating their own mythology as to what could be causing the quakes. According to Hindu mythology, the world was perched precariously on top of a stack of animals. Eight giant elephants supported the weight of the Earth on their large shoulders. These eight elephants all stood atop the giant back of a turtle, which, in turn, stood on a coiled snake. If any of the animals in the stack moved, the earth would rattle and shake.

Hindu earthquake mythology

This mythological story was a relatively easy way to explain the reason for an earthquake as it was based on many of the religious beliefs in the Hindu culture. As it was simpler to draw on already established beliefs to explain things that could not be understood, a country's religious beliefs or cultural practices played heavily into the reasons for the quakes. For example, the Greeks believed that Poseidon, who was the god of the sea, also caused earthquakes when he was angry. He struck the ground with his trident, making the whole earth shake - another way to explain something that, at that point in time, could not be explained.

Hindu Temple in Hamm:
Hindu Temple in Hamm
By Mbdortmund via Wikimedia Commons

13)  The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake Created Tons of Energy
Earthquakes generate a massive amount of energy when they occur. In fact, scientists have determined that more energy is created in a single quake than what is produced in a nuclear explosion. Since scientists have not found any way to harness the energy, it simply reverberates over the land, creating mass destruction. If the power could be captured, it would create enough energy to make all other forms of green energy obsolete. A case in point is the Indiana Ocean earthquake of 2004. This trembler produced enough energy to power businesses and homes in the U.S. for a period of three days.

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake Energy Displacement:
depiction of energy distribtution during 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and tsuami

The energy that is created by an earthquake is a result of the interaction between the earth’s tectonic plates. As one plate moves against another, a chemical reaction occurs that creates the force. This energy is used to heat the plates so they are converted back into the magma, or molten rock, just beneath the crust - a type of recycling process that recurs time and again.

2004 Tsunami in Ao Nang, Thailand:
2004 Tsunami in Ao Nang, Thailand

12)  Aftershocks Are Nothing More than the Mantle Readjusting
Aftershocks from earthquakes are not related to any direct shifting of the crust. Instead, the earth's mantle is just adjusting itself to any changes that have occurred beneath it. As the outer layer or crust moves, the mantle, which makes up the bulk of the earth, is adapting to the moment. In turn, the rocky layer and core beneath may form crevasses, settle or buckle. When settling occurs, the ground shakes. Aftershocks can take place for days, months, or even years after an earthquake. It just depends on the severity of the quake, how the mantle was affected, and any resulting changes occurring beneath the rocky core.

portions of the mantle explained
By Ewalde1 via Wikimedia Commons

Most aftershocks are felt in locales where earthquakes regularly happen. The ground constantly has to adopt to the alterations in the mantle and the crust. Therefore, aftershocks are normal in such areas as Japan and California (where they are known as tremors). Buildings in these areas are made to resist the effects of tremors and quakes.

Soil Liquefaction from Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004 - Ojiya, Japan:
Soil Liquefaction from Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004 - Ojiya, Japa
By Tubbi via Wikimedia Commons

11)  The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 Occurred before the Invention of the Richter Scale
Of all the earthquakes that have occurred in history, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was considered one of the most destructive. Because the city's infrastructure at the time was not designed to handle seismic activity, the trembler caused excessive damage and destruction. The Richter scale, which measures the magnitude of quakes, had yet to be invented.

understanding the richter scale

However, historians estimate that the quake would have registered about 7.8 on the scale - a relatively small earthquake by modern standards.

Ruins Near Post and Grant Avenue Looking Northeast - San Francisco Earthquake of 1906:
Ruins Near Post and Grant Avenue Looking Northeast - San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

Most of the damage that occurred resulted from the fires that were caused by the quake. Gas pipes erupted during the fiasco, which caused the city to burn for three days.

San Francisco Following Earthquake and Fire of 1906 - Click to Expand:
San Francisco Following Earthquake and Fire of 1906 - Click to Expand

Approximately 90 percent of the city's damage can be attributed to the burst pipes. Fortunately, San Francisco has the means today to avoid earthquake-related problems, such as cracked pipes.

richter scale of earthquake energy

10)  Parkfield, California Is Known as the Earthquake Capital of the World
Of all the places in the world that have earthquakes, the city of Parkfield, California is known as the “Earthquake Capital Of The World." Parkfield holds this distinction because it sits right on the fault line, and therefore has higher occurrence of earthquakes than almost anywhere else in the world. The city has been built with the specific purpose of withstanding the worst quakes that can be dished out. Safeguards have been incorporated in the infrastructure to resist earthquake impact as well.

This Bridge Straddles the San Andreas Fault Line:
This Bridge Straddles the San Andreas Fault Line

In fact, the city features a bridge that spans two tectonic plates. Also known as the San Andreas Fault Bridge, the connection has become bent because of seismic activity. However, the bridge is still designed to withstand direct hits from major quakes. The U.S. Geological Survey uses Parkfield as a monitoring location for earthquake activity.

2004 Park Field Earthquake USGS Eastern Monterey County, California:
2004 Park Field Earthquake USGS Eastern Monterey County, California

9)  Earthquakes Occur More Often in the Northern Hemisphere Than in the Southern Hemisphere
If you don't like the idea of being victimized by a quake, then your odds are better if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. That's because more tectonic plates are located in the Northern Hemisphere, thus the reason for more activity.

global eathquake hazard distribution

Because a quake won't occur without the shifting of the plates, the Southern Hemisphere experiences less earthquake activity. Still, the above fact doesn't make the Southern Hemisphere safer when quakes do occur. Massive tremblers still can occur south of the equator. Because there are fewer tectonic plates, there is less of a frequency.

Poor Neighborhood After a 7 Plus Rocked Haiti in 2010:
Poor Neighborhood After a 7 Plus Rocked Haiti in 2010
By UN Photo via Wikimedia Commons

8)  The Highest Tsunami on Record Was 228 Feet High in 1771
Tsunamis are a result of earthquakes that occur within the ocean. These oceanic tremblers can create a wave that will travel hundreds of miles before it wreaks havoc on a land mass or town. Interestingly, the waves that occur in the middle of the ocean do little more than pick up surface items and lay them back down. Therefore, boats in the middle of the ocean are usually not destroyed by the waves.

Tsunami Following Japanese Earthquake in 2011:
Tsunami Following Japanese Earthquake in 2011

The biggest threat caused by the waves is on the land. As a wave gets closer to the land, it clashes with the force of the water that is going out, or away from the shore. When the waters meet, the wave expands and therefore becomes a danger to anyone on the beach.

More From the 2011 Japan Earthquake:
More From the 2011 Japan Earthquake

The biggest tsunami recorded was 228 feet high and occurred in 1771. It hit Japan and completely obliterated Ishigaki Island. Even small tsunamis are known to reach hundreds of miles inland and destroy properties. Buildings and homes are hardest hit along the shore, with the wave often completely annihilating structures in its way. Cars, trucks and other land vehicles are frequently washed out to sea as well. Japan has been hurt quite extensively because of tsunami activity.

7)  Eighty Percent of the World’s Biggest Earthquakes Occur Near the “Ring of Fire”
The "Ring of Fire" is a geographic area that is made up of some of the most active tectonic plates on earth. It is so named because these plates cause volcanic eruptions as well as earthquakes throughout the area. Because of these plates, most of history's largest quakes have taken place in this area.

ring of fire map

The "Ring of Fire" spans from New Zealand to eastern Asia, and then runs through the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, before resuming its course along the coasts of North and South America. The Pacific plate, and other massive tectonic plates, all contribute to the volcanic area in this bounded area - naturally a concern for people living in the "Ring."

Types of Tectonic Plate Boundaries:
Types of Tectonic Plate Boundaries

Volcanic and seismic activity in this area is impacted when the plates beneath the earth dip back into the planet's center and melt into molten rock or magma. The molten material is then forced through the earth's rocky mantle, all which creates new land to replace what is lost.

6)  The First Earthquake Detector Was Made 2,000 Years Ago
While people believe that earthquake detectors are recent inventions, the actual technology was first invented by an ancient Chinese astronomer by the name of Zhang Heng (A.D. 78-139). The detector, which was of course primitive by modern standards, could detect tremblers over 370 miles away. Plus, the detector was used at a time when many people still believed that quakes came about mythologically.

Han Dynasty Chinese Scientist and Statesman Zhang Heng:
Han Dynasty Chinese Scientist and Statesman Zhang Heng (78-139 AD)

The detectors used today then are nothing more than updated versions of this original design. Basically, the detector is made to sense the earth's movement, both near and far. By the use of detection, it is possible to prepare for quakes that may occur closer to home. Although the technology can't forecast an earthquake, it can track an area so people are aware of the the activity.

Zhang Heng's Primitive Earthquake and First Seismograph:
Zhang Heng's Primitive Earthquake and First Seismograph

5)  The Largest Most Recent Earthquake Took Place in 1960
One of the most massive earthquakes took place in 1960 in the Southern Hemisphere. Recording a reading of 9.5 on the Richter scale, the quake occurred in Chile. The earthquake, which caused massive ocean waves that extended 6,000 miles from its epicenter, had a rupture zone spreading more than 497 miles in length.

USGS earthquake magnitude map chile earthquake

Fortunately, since the event, Chile has been able to rebuild and reconstruct its infrastructure. Although this area is not part of the "Ring of Fire," it is connected to one of the major tectonic plates that is linked to the "Ring."

1960 Earthquake Damage to Wood-frame Houses in Valdivia, Chile:
1960 Earthquake Damage to Wood-frame Houses in Valdivia, Chile

4)  Animals Are Well Known for Detecting Earthquakes
Besides manmade detectors, animals also have the ability to sense when an earthquake is ready to strike. Two main schools of thought offer explanations in this regard. Either animals may feel the slight vibrations of a quake before it strikes or they detect a change in the air flow before a trembler occurs.

Damage to Wakuya, Japan Following 2011 Earthquake:
Damage to Wakuya, Japan Following 2011 Earthquake

The sensitivity animals feel can be shown when birds suddenly fly from trees or animals become nervous without any apparent explanation. Because animals seemingly know when a quake is about to occur, humans have gotten in the habit, over time, of keeping them in close proximity, especially in areas that experience large instances of quakes.

Bay Bridge Collapse From Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989:
Bay Bridge Collapse From Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989

3)  Humans Can Also Detect Earthquakes
Even though humans cannot sense minor tremors in the ground or the changes in electrical signals, there are ways in which humans can detect earthquakes without any kind of technology. Humans often detect quakes by scent. In other words, before a quake happens, ponds and canals will smell differently. That's because underground gases are released into the water - a scent that is closely akin to sulfur. People who live close to the water then can detect the change before anyone else as they are accustomed to the environment.

Collapsed Bridge in Vespucio Norte from 2010 Chile Earthquake:
Collapsed Bridge in Vespucio Norte from 2010 Chile Earthquake
By Esteban Maldonado via Wikimedia Commons

Humans can also detect a change because of the way the ground feels. Before an earthquake, the ground will increase in temperature for seemingly no reason at all. This is because the ground is starting to react to the plates rubbing together. While the ground will not become unbearably hot, it will feel warmer as a result. You can notably tell the difference if you are touching the ground with your bare skin. Therefore, a change in temperature can be noted if you are walking barefoot or lying on the ground.

Sumatra, Indonesia Devastated by the Earthquake and Tsunami in 2005:
Sumatra, Indonesia Devastated by the Earthquake and Tsunami in 2005

2)  The San Andreas Fault Moves Two Inches Each Year
One of the most active faults in the world is the San Andreas Fault. This is the fault that runs along the California coast, which some people believe may cause the state to eventually fade away. The fault is extremely active as the plates in the area cause the ground to move two inches every year - approximately the same speed that fingernails grow.

Map of San Andreas Fault System:
Map of San Andreas Fault System

Because of the movement, California has the second highest frequency of quakes in the U.S. Only Alaska experiences more earthquakes.

Aerial View of San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain:
Aerial View of San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain
By Ikluft via Wikimedia Commons

Because of the fault movement, scientists have predicted that Los Angles and San Francisco will sit side by side in the next 15 million years. While this rate of change is pretty slow by human standards, it notes a fairly rapid progression with respect to the earth. As a result, many people who study quakes use California as their center for research.

Diagrams Showing Plate-tectonic Evolution of the San Andreas Fault System:
Diagrams Showing Plate-tectonic Evolution of the San Andreas Fault System

1)  The Longest Fault Is the San Andreas Fault
Besides being an active fault, the San Andreas Fault is also the longest known fault in the world. Referred to as a slip-strike fault, the San Andreas Fault is about 800 miles in length. It goes all the way from San Francisco to parts of Mexico. The fault has been responsible for many of the massive earthquakes that have taken place throughout the area.

Index Map Showing Locations of Surface Traces of the San Andreas Fault System:
Index Map Showing Locations of Surface Traces of the San Andreas Fault System

Rather than being one fault though, the San Andreas Fault is actually several interconnected faults, all which are part of one massive fault system. As a result, the area along the San Andreas experiences both quakes and aftershocks. Activity along the fault is in direct response to one plate moving under the other. As more land is created by the rock melting into magma, each plate has the power to keep moving and producing more quakes.

sign for san andreas fault

Earthquakes cannot be prevented, but the more we know about them, the easier it is to prepare for these natural disasters. The above information details just a few of the interesting facts scientists and historians know about tremblers and tremors. Knowing about earthquakes enables people to prepare for them even if they can't predict when they will occur.





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