Weekly Feature

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Koji Sasahara/AP

Nature Wages War: Earthquakes

March 23, 2010
by Liz Colville
The earthquake, a popular stop in a child’s scientific education, holds a lot of excitement. It’s a popular topic of television programs, too. But the consequences of earthquakes can be disastrous, especially for impoverished countries. Today we look at the science behind the earthquake and its various effects in history.

What’s an Earthquake?

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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 upon building technology and other developments that are usually only found in richer countries. In the simulation, you can pick and test out a specific environment and architecture and see how earthquakes of varying magnitudes affect them. As the tool points out, “all 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; what geologists, seismologists, and related scientists study; and fun ways, like puzzles and games, to test out your knowledge.

What’s Happening Under Ground?

UC Berkeley has an educational resource on plate tectonics, explaining the history of the theory and the processes occurring between the plates, which are believed to cause many earthquakes. Watch animations in your browser to see how the continents have drifted over millions of years.

Where Earthquakes Rule

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 right on 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 (the San Andreas Fault is a border between two plates).
Watch this video from America’s Library to see original film footage of the damage done to San Francisco after the quake.
The San Andreas Fault is probably the best-known source of earthquake, 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.” Further, “more 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 affect the States and the rest of the world, including Greece, Taiwan, Mexico, and Turkey.
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