earthquake is the vibration felt when energy is released
by the sudden displacement of rock along faults, or large
fractures, within the Earth's Crust.
Most earthquakes can be explained by plate tectonics and
the elastic rebound theory. The theory was proposed by
H.F. Reid of Johns Hopkins University in 1906. It says
that the constant motion of rocks along one side of a
fault boundary causes the rocks on the opposite side to
The bending leads to a build up of elastic energy. Eventually
the frictional forces holding the rocks together are overcome
and the rocks break at the weakest point along the fault
line, known as the focus. The deformed rock experiences
slippage and then snaps back to its original position.
The energy released by this slippage causes earthquake
The released energy travels through the Earth in the form
of waves. These waves are separated into three classes:
primary, secondary and surface waves.
Primary, or P waves, are the first waves
felt because they are the fastest. They move in a compressional,
"push-pull" manner similar to a spring that temporarily
changes the volume of the material they're moving through.
These waves can travel through liquid, solid and gaseous
Secondary, or S waves, are felt next. These
waves move in an oscillatory, "up and down" manner similar
to shaking a rope that temporarily changes the shape of
the material they're traveling through. Because liquids
respond to changes in volume but not shape, they will
not transmit S waves.
Finally the surface waves are felt. These waves are more
complex. Rayleigh waves move up and down like ocean swells
along the Earth's surface while Love waves move side to
side or horizontally. Surface waves are most damaging
to man-made structures.
Because seismic waves travel in all directions from the
focus, they can be recorded from any point on the earth's
surface. Locations of earthquakes can be established by
finding the epicenter, the point on the Earth's surface
directly above the focus, by using a method called triangulation.
Records of the types of waves that reach certain areas
of the Earth have provided clues about the physical state
of the Earth's interior.
By improving our understanding of the Earth and its forces,
scientists can improve the stability of building structures
near seismically active zones to save lives and lessen
damages and maybe someday even predict earthquakes.
The Earth is composed of three main layers of rock: the
core, the mantle and the crust. The core is the center
of the Earth and is separated into a solid, metallic inner
core and a molten outer core with an overall thickness
of about 2161 km.
The theory of plate tectonics was proposed in 1968 to
explain why similar fossils and rock structures are found
in landmasses now separated by vast oceans. It says that
the earth is divided into about 20 rigid plates that are
in continuous motion in relation to one another.
It is the movement of these plates that creates stresses
in the rock that result in earthquakes, most of which
occur along plate boundaries.
Energy created when a rock is deformed elastically, like
a stretched rubber band. Rocks can also be deformed viscously,
like silly putty, or in a combination of the two.
A mathematical method for locating the epicenter of an