What Does an Earthquake Mean?

Quck answer

An earthquake is a shaking or trembling of the Earth’s surface caused by the sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust. It is typically caused by the movement of tectonic plates, which are large sections of the Earth’s crust that float on the semi-fluid mantle beneath them. When these plates move past each other, they can become stuck due to friction, and when the stress on the rocks becomes too great, they will slip, causing an earthquake. Earthquakes can range in size from minor tremors that are barely felt to major events that can cause widespread destruction and loss of life.


The Earth can be divided into four main layers: the inner core, outer core, mantle, and crust. The crust and the upper part of the mantle resemble a thin layer on the Earth’s surface.

However, unlike the skin on our bodies, this layer on the Earth is not continuous. Instead, it is made up of multiple pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

These puzzle pieces are known as tectonic plates. Tectonic plates differ from jigsaw puzzle pieces because they are constantly moving, slowly sliding past or colliding with each other.

The boundaries of the tectonic plates are referred to as plate boundaries. While the rough plate boundaries occasionally get stuck, the rest of the plates continue to move.

When a plate moves a significant distance, its edges break free along a region called a fault. When two tectonic plates suddenly slip past each other, the people living near the fault experience an earthquake.

The point on the Earth’s surface directly above the underground location where the earthquake occurs is known as the epicenter of the earthquake. Following an earthquake, there are often smaller earthquakes, called aftershocks, that take place in the same area. These aftershocks can continue for weeks, months, or even years after the main earthquake.

Earthquakes can cause extensive damage. The sudden movement of tectonic plates can result in injuries and significant property damage, particularly because earthquakes often occur without warning.

When plate boundaries become stuck, the energy from their usual motion is stored and accumulates until it is suddenly released during an earthquake. This release takes the form of seismic waves that spread out in all directions from a fault. As these seismic waves reach the Earth’s surface, they shake the ground and everything on it.

If you ever experience an earthquake firsthand, it is important to remember and follow a few safety tips:

  • Get low and take cover under a sturdy object, such as a table or desk.
  • Hold on and try to remain as steady as possible.
  • Stay indoors until the earthquake subsides.
  • Avoid windows, furniture, and other objects that could fall on you.
  • If you are in bed, stay there and protect your head with a pillow.
  • If you are outside, move to an open area away from buildings, trees, and power lines.
  • If you are in a car, slow down and stop in a clear space until the earthquake stops.

Take earthquake safety seriously! Scientists estimate that there are approximately 500,000 detectable earthquakes worldwide each year. Out of these, about 100,000 can be felt, and at least 100 cause some form of damage.

Give It a Try

Are you prepared for an earthquake? Enlist the help of a friend or family member to participate in the activities below:

Interesting Facts About Earthquakes

Did you know that earthquakes occur frequently? It’s a fact! To convince yourself, just take a look at the interactive map of the Latest Earthquakes in the USA provided by the United States Geological Survey!

Back in the days when scientists had limited knowledge about geology and the causes of earthquakes, people came up with various theories to explain these natural occurrences. Let your imagination run wild and come up with a list of at least three possible explanations that people might have proposed to justify the cause of earthquakes. For instance, could they have been caused by mythical creatures like dragons dwelling beneath the surface of the Earth? Share your thoughts with a friend or family member and discover what ideas they have on this topic.

Are you up for a challenge? You can learn about engineering principles by building a structure using drinking straws and testing its resilience against an earthquake. Follow the instructions provided here and have a great time!

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