Earthquake: What Is It, How It Is Produced And Types - Summary

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Did you know that almost 500,000 earthquakes happen every year? Of course, they all have different magnitudes and many are imperceptible unless you have access to a seismometer. The truth is that earthquakes are a natural phenomenon that arouses a lot of curiosity, possibly because they are unpredictable.

Precisely to delve into this phenomenon of geology and understand it better, we will dedicate this post by Green Ecologist to develop everything about what is an earthquake, how it occurs and its types, enter more related details. If it is of your interest, do not hesitate to continue reading.

What is an earthquake

Simply put, the word earthquake means "earth in motion" and it comes from Latin. However, in more technical terms, an earthquake is defined as a sudden movement or vibration of the earth's crust It is produced by the release of energy, contained from the interior of the Earth, in the form of seismic waves.

Earthquakes can be classified according to their origin, their magnitude and more ways, but all of them are characterized by being transitory, that is, they do not last more than a few seconds or, sometimes, minutes. Regarding its origin, there are some necessary concepts to understand the entire phenomenon. One of these concepts is hypocenter of an earthquake, defined as the point of origin of an earthquake. Another important concept is the epicenter of an earthquake, which is not more than the point of the earth's surface that is on the hypocenter. Next, we will know how they are produced, that is, their origin, among other details.

How does an earthquake occur

Earthquakes are generated, mainly, by the tectonic activity. This activity is based on the theory that the earth's surface, or better known as the Lithosphere, is made up of tectonic plates that slide and can collide each other, that's where tectonic activity arises. It is precisely this movement and collision between plates that causes the vast majority of earthquakes. Here you can learn more about what the lithosphere is.

However, there are many other causes that can trigger earthquakes and from these causes an extensive classification arises that we will detail in the next section. Also, in the video below you can learn more details about what an earthquake is and how it occurs.

Types of earthquakes

As we mentioned, depending on the cause for which the earthquakes originate, they can be classified into two large groups:

Earthquakes due to natural causes

  • Tectonic earthquakes: those associated with plate tectonics generally occur in areas of contact between different tectonic plates or, rarely, in areas of weakness within plates. Tectonic earthquakes are the most frequent.
  • Volcanic earthquakes: those earthquakes that are generated by the fractionation of the rock product of the volcanic activity of a region. We recommend you read these Green Ecologist articles on How volcanoes form and Types of volcanic eruptions.
  • Collapse earthquakes: those that are associated with sudden displacements of rock or earth masses. For example, earthquakes that occur after a rapid slide down a hillside.
  • Earthquakes from meteorite impacts: on planet Earth they are very rare, but throughout history there have been some earthquakes caused by the violent shaking that occurs when a meteorite hits the ground.

Earthquakes due to man-made causes

  • Earthquakes induced by large reservoirs: those earthquakes produced by the overload of dammed water and the sudden changes that occur when it is released.
  • Earthquakes from nuclear or mine and quarry explosions: Nuclear explosions can produce earthquakes of medium magnitude, while explosions from mines and quarries can produce earthquakes of lesser magnitude.
  • Earthquakes induced by oil extraction: Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a technique used to extract gas and oil. It usually causes micro-earthquakes and sometimes larger earthquakes by breaking the ground.

How earthquakes are measured

There are many ways to measure earthquakes, some scales measure the magnitude of the earthquake, others simply measure the intensity. However, the most widely used scale is magnitude and is called Richter scale o scale of local magnitude (M). It is a logarithmic scale of magnitudes and is obtained from the relationship between the force and the energy released. Precisely the Richter scale allows us to measure earthquakes of magnitude 2 to 6.9 and depths from 0 to 400 kilometers.

For its part, seismological scale of magnitude of the moment, It is also frequently used since it allows to measure earthquakes of magnitudes greater than 6.9 and to determine with more precision the extreme values. This scale also measures the stiffness of the rock and the average distance of displacement.

Aftermath of an earthquake

Depending on the magnitude and intensity of the earthquake, there are many consequences that can be caused. Let's see here:

  • Ground breaking: It is one of the most common effects observed after an earthquake, causing significant damage to buildings and infrastructure of roads and highways, among others.
  • Floods: After the earthquake, floods can arise as a result of the rupture of dams or the sliding of river beds, which generate collapse. Here you can read about the Causes and consequences of floods.
  • Ground slides: With the abrupt movement of the tectonic plates, certain instability is generated in valleys and mountains that promote landslides.
  • Tsunamis or tidal waves: This type of phenomenon is based on the vertical displacement of large masses of water as a set of waves with great energy and variable size. Tsunamis are produced by various causes, including earthquakes in the middle of the sea or earthquakes whose epicenter is near the sea. In this other post you can learn more about How tsunamis are formed.
  • Impacts directly to humans: Although all the effects just mentioned cause numerous impacts on human life, they could be considered indirect. Earthquakes can directly cause injury and even death. Once the earthquake is over, depending on the damage it has caused, inaccessibility to basic services, food shortages, illnesses, etc. may occur.

Now that you have been able to learn all this about what an earthquake is, how it occurs, its types and more details, we encourage you to know the volcanic and seismic regions of the world, where more earthquakes and volcanoes occur.

If you want to read more articles similar to Earthquake: what is it, how is it produced and typesWe recommend that you enter our Nature Curiosities category.

  • Sánchez, F. V. (1994). Earthquakes and their causes. In The study of earthquakes in Almería (pp. 17-38). Institute of Almeria Studies.
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