Earthquakes or the word earthquake are used to describe any sudden shaking of the ground caused by the passing of seismic waves through the Earth's crust. The epicenters of these huge waves are usually near the geologic fault lines of the world, which are located at the fringes of huge tectonic plates that make up the Earth's crust.
The world's earthquakes are not randomly distributed over the Earth's surface. They tend to be concentrated in narrow zones called hot spots. The theory of plate tectonics tells us that the Earth's rigid outer shell (lithosphere) is broken into a mosaic of oceanic and continental plates which can slide over the plastic aesthenosphere, which is the uppermost layer of the mantle. The plates are in constant motion. Where they interact, along their margins, important geological processes take place, such as the formation of mountain belts, earthquakes, and volcanoes.
"he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke." - Psalm 104:32
- Main Article: Plate tectonics
The energy, or seismic waves, can be released several ways. Elastic strain, gravity, chemical reactions, or even the motion of massive bodies can cause earthquakes or minor ones. However, most may produce minor activity, the elastic strain actually stores its energy to release some of the most damaging effects, dubbing such as, "tectonic earthquakes."
There are seven major crustal plates, subdivided into a number of smaller plates. They are about 80 kilometers thick, all in constant motion relative to one another, at rates varying from 10 to 130 millimeters per year. Their pattern is neither symmetrical nor simple. As we learn more and more about the major plates, we find that many complicated and intricate maneuvers are taking place. We learn, too, that most of the geological action - earthquakes, mountains, rift valleys, volcanoes, faulting - is due to different types of interaction at plate boundaries.
In 1969, Muawia Barazangi and James Dorman published the locations of all earthquakes which occurred from 1961 to 1967. Most of the earthquakes are confined to narrow belts and these belts define the boundaries of the plates. The interiors of the plates themselves are largely free of large earthquakes, that is, they are aseismic. There are notable exceptions to this. An obvious one is the 1811-1812 earthquakes at New Madrid, Missouri, and another is the 1886 earthquake at Charleston, South Carolina. As yet there is no satisfactory plate tectonic explanation for these isolated events; consequently, alternative mechanisms must be sought.
There are four types of seismic zones. The first follows the line of midocean ridges. Activity is low, and it occurs at very shallow depths. The point is that the lithosphere is very thin and weak at these boundaries, so the strain cannot build up enough to cause large earthquakes. Associated with this type of seismicity is the volcanic activity along the axis of the ridges (for example, Iceland, Azores, Tristan da Cunha).
The second type of earthquake associated with plate tectonics is the shallow-focus event unaccompanied by volcanic activity. The San Andreas fault is a good example of this, so is the Anatolian fault in Northern Turkey. In these faults, two mature plates are scraping by one another. The friction between the plates can be so great that very large strains can build up before they are periodically relieved by large earthquakes. Nevertheless, activity does not always occur along the entire length of the fault during any one earthquake. For instance, the 1906 San Francisco event was caused by breakage only along the northern end of the San Andreas fault.
The third type of earthquake is related to the collision of oceanic and continental plates. One plate is thrust or subducted under the other plate so that a deep ocean trench is produced. In the Philippines, ocean trenches are associated with curved volcanic island arcs on the landward plate, for example the Java trench. Along the Peru - Chile trench, the Nazca plate is being subducted under the South American plate which responds by crumpling to form the Andes. This type of earthquake can be shallow, intermediate, or deep, according to its location on the downgoing lithospheric slab. Such inclined planes of earthquakes are know as Benioff zones.
The fourth type of seismic zone occurs along the boundaries of continental plates. Typical of this is the broad swath of seismicity from Burma to the Mediterranean, crossing the Himalayas, Iran, Turkey, to Gilbraltar. Within this zone, shallow earthquakes are associated with high mountain ranges where intense compression is taking place. Intermediate- and deep-focus earthquakes also occur and are known in the Himalayas and in the Caucasus. The interiors of continental plates are very complex, much more so than island arcs. For instance, we do not yet know the full relationship of the Alps or the East African rift system to the broad picture of plate tectonics.
Earthquakes occur at the following three kinds of plate boundary: ocean ridges where the plates are pulled apart, margins where the plates scrape past one another, and margins where one plate is thrust under the other. Thus, we can predict the general regions on the Earth's surface where we can expect large earthquakes in the future. We know that each year about 140 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater will occur within this area which is 10 percent of the Earth's surface.
- Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics by the U.S. Geological Survey
- Twentieth Century Earthquakes - Confronting an Urban Legend by Steven A. Austin. Institute for Creation Research. January, 1998.
- Earthquakes in these Last Days by Steven A. Austin. Institute for Creation Research. December, 1989.
- Earthquake Hazards Program by National Earthquake Information Center