Introduction • E a r t h q u a k e s are probably the most frightening naturally occurring hazard encountered. Why? Earthquakes typically occur with little warning. There is no escape from an earthquake! Earthquakes have devastating effects, resulting in hundreds to thousands of deaths and injuries, and millions to billions of dollars worth of property damage. • The earthquake's location, magnitude of the earthquake, surface geology, and population density are major factors contributing to earthquake damage. • Although earthquakes can occur anywhere on earth, most earthquakes (>90%) occur where tectonic plates move against one another. The boundaries along each plate are referred to as margins. Different types of stresses are associated with each type of margin. Convergent-plate margins have compressional stresses (come together Þ Ü , therefore result in crustal shortening); divergent-plate margins have tensional stresses (move apart Ü Þ , resulting in crustal extension); and transform-plate margins have shear stresses (the plates slide past each other ). Each type of margin has a corresponding fault type associated with it.
Types of faults • Earthquakes result from movement along a fault. Faults and earthquakes are cause and effect. The sense of motion on faults describes how the block move relative to each other. Faults may move along preexisting fracture or may form a new one. There are 3 basic types of faults: normal, reverse, and strike-slip. Normal and reverse faulting result in vertical slip, while strike-slip faulting results in horizontal slip. In nature, motion is seldom absolutely along one direction. There can be a combination of vertical and horizontal slip, which would make the movement along the fault oblique.
Normal faults • Normal faults are associated with extension. A good example of normal faulting is the Basin and Range topography of the western United States. The western part of the North American plate has been pulled apart into a series of "blocks". Most Basin and Range structures result from the tilting of these blocks. A major Basin and Range fault zone is the Wasatch Fault zone, which is 220 miles long (360 kilometers) and extends from Utah into Idaho.
Reverse faults • Reverse faults are associated with compressional forces- 2 plates or fault blocks pushing towards each other. One side ends up on top! Thrust faults are reverse faults that move up a shallower angle than ordinary reverse faults.
Reverse faults • Strike-slip faults are associated with shear stresses. One side of the fault "slides" past the other. "Sometimes" it is fairly easy to recognize where movement on a strike-slip fault has occurred. The photo below shows a creek located along the San Andreas Fault. The zigzag effect (offset) of the creek channel is the result of movement along the fault. • Compare the photo of the San Andreas Fault with the strike-slip fault diagram. The San Andreas Fault is a right-lateral strike-slip fault.
Earthquake processes • Rupturing rocks release huge amounts of energy. The sudden release of energy is what is felt in an earthquake. Earthquake energy is in the form of seismic waves. The seismic waves radiate out from a central point, called the focus or hypocenter, like ripples moving outward from a pebble tossed into a lake. The location directly above the hypocenter, on the earth's surface, is called the epicenter.
Seismic waves • Four types of seismic waves are generated when faulting triggers an earthquake. All the seismic waves are generated at the same time, but travel at different speeds and in different ways. Body waves penetrate the earth and travel through it, while surface waves travel along the surface of the ground. • Primary and secondary waves are body waves. Primary waves (P-waves) travel the fastest and can move through solids and liquids. The P-wave energy causes the ground to move in a compressional motion in the same direction that the wave is traveling. Secondary waves (S-waves) are slower and travel only through solids. The S-wave energy causes the ground to move in a shearing motion perpendicular to the direction of wave movement. • Rayleigh and Love waves are the two types of surface waves. Rayleigh wave energy causes a complex heaving or rolling motion, while Love wave energy causes a sideways movement. The combination of Rayleigh and Love waves results in ground heave and swaying buildings. Surface waves cause the most devastating damage to buildings, bridges, and highways.
Detecting, locating, and measuring earthquakes • Several thousand stations monitor earthquakes all over the world. Each station contains an instrument, called a seismograph, used to detect arrival times and record seismic waves. The seismograph consists of a seismometer (the detector) and a recording device. The seismometer electronically amplifies wave motion. • The graph on which seismic waves are recorded is called a seismogram. The amplitude of the recorded seismic wave is the vertical distance between the crest and trough of the waveform, therefore, the larger the earthquake, the greater the amplitude of the earthquake. The key to locating an earthquake's epicenter is the difference in arrival time, called lag time, of P- and S-waves.
Magnitude and intensity • Earthquakes are categorized in two ways- magnitude and intensity. • Magnitude indicates the severity of an earthquake using the Richter Scale, a logarithmic, instrumentally determined measurement. Magnitude rates an earthquake as a whole. The severity of an earthquake is a rating based on the amplitude of the seismic waves. • Larger amplitude waves equals higher magnitude earthquake equals greater severity. • Amplitude is the vertical distance between the trough and crest of a waveform (sound familiar?). • The Mercalli Scale defines intensity. Intensity is rated by how much damage was caused by an earthquake and how it affected people. • Go to the University of Nevada-Reno Richter scale page for an excellent explanation of the Richter Scale and other earthquake quantifying tools. • The UNR Seismological Laboratory Page is full of interesting information for earthquake enthusiasists.
Earthquake damages (secondary effects) • Effects of an earthquake can be classified as primary or secondary. • Primary effects are permanent features produced by the earthquake. Examples include fault scarps, surface ruptures, and offsets of natural or human-constructed objects. • An example you have already seen is the creek offset produced by movement along the San Andreas Fault. • Secondary effects result when ground movement causes other types of damage. Examples include landslides, tsunami, liquefaction and fire. • The amount of damage caused by an earthquake varies with magnitude. The greater the magnitude, the greater the damage potential.
Landslides • Seismic vibration is a common triggering mechanism for landslides. In hilly or mountainous regions, landslides can have particularly devastating effects. Damages can range from debris-covered roadways to extensive property damage and numerous casualties.
Tsunami • A tsunami is a sea wave triggered by a violent displacement of the ocean floor, such as vertical displacement of the seafloor along a fault. Underwater earthquakes, submarine volcanic eruptions or landslides can cause tsunami. Tsunami waves have very long wavelengths (crest-to-crest) and can be enormous (as large as 60 miles/100 kilometers). The height of a tsunami in the open ocean is very low (generally less than 1.5 feet/0.5 meters), while the speed of the tsunami is very high. As it approaches a shallow coastline, its speed is reduced, but the height of the tsunami increases drastically, causing devastation on land.
Liquefaction • How much can surface and subsurface material contribute to earthquake damages? Like many other physical phenomena, the answer is, "It depends." Thick sequences of unconsolidated sediments, such as sand, mud, and artificial fill, greatly magnify ground shaking during an earthquake. Ground shaking transmits forces to building that most buildings are not designed and constructed to endure. Ground shaking results in extensive property damage. Bedrock is less likely to be affected by ground shaking than is unconsolidated material. Buildings constructed on bedrock sustain far less damage than those built on unconsolidated material. Other dangers also come from the ground during an earthquake. Buildings constructed on sandy soil prone to water saturation have the greatest potential for complete destruction, because water-saturated sandy soil is subject to a phenomena called liquefaction. During liquefaction, water-saturated soil behaves as a fluid rather than as a solid. It becomes incapable of supporting much weight. (Remember the soil module and the section of soil strength?)
Fires • Earthquakes cause fires. Even moderate ground shaking can break gas and electrical lines, sever fuel lines, and overturn stoves. Water pipes rupture, making it impossible to fight the earthquake-caused fires. The famous San Francisco earthquake in 1906 ruptured the city's main water pipes. Extensive fire damage was the result!
* Epicenter * Focus * Hypocenter * Faults: . . . . normal . . . . reverse . . . . strike-slip * Debris flow * Ground shaking * Liquefaction * Mercalli scale * Modified Mercalli scale * Primary effects * Secondary effects * Richter scale * Seismograph * Seismogram * Seismometer Terms to Look Up and Know: • * Seismologist • * Seismicity • * Seismic waves: • . . . . P-waves • . . . . S-waves • . . . . Rayleigh waves • . . . . Love waves • * Tsunami