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Earthquake Science

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Earthquakes shake our planet frequently as the tectonic planets of the Earth’s crust shift and rub together when energy is released from the core. Geological scientists study the plate movement, or seismic activity around the globe, measuring the magnitude with the Richter scale.

These measurements, determined by a seismogram, convey the size of quakes based on a scale of 10, while also providing information that will help scientists predict quakes in the future. The most devastating quakes occur when the epicenter of the seismic activity combines with a high magnitude causing the surface of the crust to shake, or rupture, damaging the landscape and buildings on and around it. A tremor that measures 6.0 or higher, is considered “strong,” but a 5.0 will damage a poorly constructed building. If the epicenter of the Earthquake is under the ocean, this can lead to waves or a tsunami.

Some areas are more prone to these natural disasters than others. Areas with geological fault lines, the areas where tectonic plates, or fractured rocks meet, move when energy is released from the core. Faults can have multiple fractures due to the activity under the Earth’s surface, so these areas are called fault zones.

To learn more about the science of earthquakes, explore the items below.

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  • DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON on until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.
  • Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.

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  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits, and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

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  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

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  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

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The recent quakes have all been along this volatile zone.

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The strongest quake since 1944 hit Virginia Tuesday.

Scientists in California recommend a system similar to Japan's early warning alarm.

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The Ring of Fire, explained

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