Weekly Feature

earthquake, earthquakes
Koji Sasahara/AP

Haiti Disaster Illustrates Power of Earthquakes

January 13, 2010
by Liz Colville
Earthquakes are often the focus of films and television programs, but are truly more disturbing than entertaining. The consequences of earthquakes can be disastrous, especially for impoverished countries like Haiti. Learn about the science behind earthquakes and their various effects in history.

What’s an Earthquake?

TLC, the popular cable channel, has an “Earthquake Simulator” tool on its Web site. It’s an educational, interactive way to explore this strange phenomenon. TLC looks at the earthquake from a very important angle: its impact on human life, which is so often contingent on building technology and other developments that are usually found only in richer countries. In the simulation, you can pick and test a specific environment and architecture, and see how earthquakes of varying magnitudes affect them. As the tool points out, “[A]ll construction is a calculated risk” when earthquakes are a possibility.
Bridging reality with entertainment, the U.S. Geological Survey has several kid-friendly resources about earthquakes that help users understand the relevance of learning about earthquakes. Find out what geologists, seismologists and related scientists study, and look for fun ways, such as puzzles and games, to test your knowledge.

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 is still the most destructive earthquake in U.S. history. But out of that event came something constructive: the study of earthquakes, which became an entire branch in scientific study after the discovery of the San Andreas Fault in the crust of California.

Read the New York Sun’s original article reporting the San Francisco earthquake at the National Center for Public Policy Research site.

Using Google Earth, a free software tool from Google that lets you explore the planet and the universe from your desktop, the USGS offers a virtual tour of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. First, download Google Earth from Google’s site. Next, download the files on the USGS site to explore the science of plate tectonics, the shifting of plates in the earth’s crust that cause earthquakes.

Watch this video from America’s Library to see original film footage of the damage done to San Francisco after the quake.

Where Earthquakes Rule

The San Andreas Fault is probably the best-known source of earthquakes, but according to TLC, San Francisco isn’t the only American city that should be concerned about earthquakes. In “Cities at Risk,” TLC says “about 90 percent of the nation's population lives in areas considered seismically active.” In addition, “[m]ore than 3,500 earthquakes have been recorded east of the Mississippi River since 1700.”

TLC’s “Gallery of Devastation” is a sobering look at how earthquakes have affected the U.S. and the rest of the world, including Greece, Taiwan, Mexico and Turkey.

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