What Is The Natural Disaster Known As An Earthquake?

An earthquake can be a scary thing, and can devastate homes, finances, other property, and even human life.


Technically defined, an earthquake is a perceptible shaking of the Earth’s surface triggered by the generation of seismic waves as a result of a release of energy from the Earth’s crust. Earthquakes have always been a common occurrence in the long geological history of our planet. However, never before has this feared natural disaster claimed as many lives as it does in the present times, when earthquakes strike the densely populated towns and cities of the Earth where running to safe grounds is often not an option. Though wild animals are believed to sense earthquakes before they arrive, and thereby go about seeking refuge before the disaster even strikes, humans, despite being equipped with such highly advanced scientific methods, have yet to discover a foolproof method to predict earthquakes. Until such a development occurs, it is best to have some knowledge about this natural disaster and learn the techniques to remain safe when they strike.

Largest In History

The world’s most powerful earthquake, the May 22nd, 1960 earthquake in Chile with a magnitude of 9.5, left nearly 4,485 people dead and injured, and millions homeless. The effects of the earthquake were worsened by the ensuing tsunami and the eruption of the Volcán Puyehue. The 9.2 magnitude Prince William Sound earthquake in Alaska on March 28th, 1964 was the second most powerful earthquake in recorded history, and an event that claimed nearly 128 victims' lives and destroyed property worth $311 million. The more recent December 26th, 2004, earthquake, having a magnitude of 9.1 with its epicenter off of the west coast of northern Sumatra, was the world’s third most powerful earthquake. However, the effect of this earthquake was even more terrible than the Chilean earthquake, and the tsunamis triggered by the 2004 quake flooded coastal towns, cities, and villages in at least 14 countries, killing more than 170,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

Areas Most Vulnerable

Most earthquakes occur at or near the edges of the oceanic and continental plates. The movement of the Earth’s mantle below the crust causes the plates to bump into each other or slide over each other, resulting in earthquakes. However, this natural disaster might also be triggered along fault lines, which are cracks along an oceanic or continental plate, given there is a resulting displacement of the Earth’s crust along such fault lines. Though earthquakes can strike the Earth at any time or place, they are more common occurrences in three areas of the planet. Namely, these are the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, the Alpide Belt, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These regions are more susceptible due to the higher rate of tectonic movements occurring in the Earth’s crust in these active seismic zones.

Prediction, Detection, and Measurement

Seismology refers to the scientific study of earthquakes. Earthquake prediction studies is a branch of seismology that deals with the ability to predict the location, time, and magnitude of future earthquakes, and the locations where they will strike from beneath the Earth's surface. Several attempts have been made to devise a foolproof method for predicting earthquakes, but by the 1990s most scientists had began to believe in the impossibility of predicting earthquakes. Until now, none of the major earthquakes of the world have been accurately predicted. When it comes to detecting and measuring earthquakes, the reporting of earthquakes based on the Richter scale is no longer in popular use. Instead, media today reports earthquakes simply by their magnitude. Seismographs, placed on the ground in a network of geological monitoring stations across the world, record the shaking of the ground in the form of wave readings. Scientists use these seismographs to predict the time, location, and magnitude of the earthquakes. Earthquakes are classified according to their magnitude, in a logarithmic scale wherein those with a magnitude greater than or equal to 8.0 are regarded as the most powerful and dangerous ones, and those less than 2.0 may not even be felt at all.

How To Stay Safe

Precautions to remain safe from earthquakes can be taken well before a calamity actually strikes. Architects can be consulted to build earthquake-ready homes in earthquake-prone areas, as is seen in many constructions in the U.S. state of California. Emergency supplies, like f=First Aid kits, canned food, stored water, and flashlights, can be kept in homes, which are also helpful in other emergency events. However, when a seismic disaster strikes, the first thing to do is to take cover under a protective piece of furniture and stay away from anything that may fall upon one's self or otherwise invoke injury. A pillow or cushioning material can be held over the head to protect the head against falling debris. While on the road, whether walking or driving, staying away from trees and buildings and any other object that can potentially topple over would be the best thing to do. At the present, common sense and good fortune are the only two factors that can ultimately help one face nature's wrath and emerge alive in the event of a major earthquake.

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