The Earth's crust is made up of several tectonic plates. These plates float on top of the liquid magma below the surface of the Earth, allowing them to move. Earthquakes occur along plate margins (where plates meet). When plates move past, towards or away from each other, the movement is not smooth. Friction causes the plates to get stuck. This causes pressure to build up. Earthquakes occur when this build up of pressure is released. The point where the earthquake starts is called the focus. Energy waves race rapidly from this point. The point at ground level, directly above the focus, is called the epicentre.

Strength of Earthquakes

The severity of an earthquake can be expressed in terms of both intensity and magnitude. However, the two terms are quite different, and they are often confused. Intensity is based on the observed effects of ground shaking on people, buildings, and natural features. It varies from place to place within the disturbed region depending on the location of the observer with respect to the earthquake epicenter. Magnitude is related to the amount of seismic energy released at the hypocenter of the earthquake. It is based on the amplitude of the earthquake waves recorded on instruments which have a common calibration. The magnitude of an earthquake is thus represented by a single, instrumentally determined value.

The Richter magnitude scale was developed in 1935 by Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology as a mathematical device to compare the size of earthquakes. The magnitude of an earthquake is determined from the logarithm of the amplitude of waves recorded by seismographs. Adjustments are included in the magnitude formula to compensate for the variation in the distance between the various seismographs and the epicenter of the earthquakes. On the Richter Scale, magnitude is expressed in whole numbers and decimal fractions. For example, a magnitude of 5.3 might be computed for a moderate earthquake, and a strong earthquake might be rated as magnitude 6.3. Because of the logarithmic basis of the scale, each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured amplitude; as an estimate of energy, each whole number step in the magnitude scale corresponds to the release of about 31 times more energy than the amount associated with the preceding whole number value.

More information about earthquakes can be found here.
It is possible to view video clips of earthquakes here.



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Question 1
Let's first look at calculating values as logarithms.
Write the following numbers as logarithms to the base 10.

(a)  1000
(b)  1000000 
(c)  0.001
(d)  0.1
(e)  0.000001 
(f)   1


Question 2
Use a calculator to write the following numbers as logarithms to the base 10.

(a)  152
(b)  467
(c)  1132567  
(d)  1995262  
(e)  17
(f)   0.00145


Question 3
Use a calculator to find out how much stronger than an earthquake of magnitude 6 is each of the following earthquakes;

(a)  The 1995 Kobe earthquake of magnitude 7.2
(b)  The 1999 Turkish earthquake of magnitude 6.9
(c)  The 2005 Pakistan earthquake of magnitude 7.6  

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Produced by R.D.Geach June 2006