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The Sound of Science - 'How are earthquakes made?'


The Sound of Science - 'How are earthquakes made?'

Welcome to The Sound of Science from WNIJ and NIU STEAM. It’s a weekly series explaining important STEM concepts. Today’s hosts are Jeremy Benson and Newt Likier.

We have a question here from Morgan, who asks “How are earthquakes made?”

An earthquake happens because the landmasses on Earth are still shifting. It’s easy to think of the world as pretty stable these days. After all, when you look at maps or globes made by humans, things have stayed geologically the same.

But this hasn’t always been the case. The Earth’s surface is broken up into tectonic plates, and unlike a puzzle that fits together nicely, these plates don’t sit neatly alongside one another. They’re more like a group of Black Friday shoppers trying to push their way into one door. Except much, much slower. Like, so slow that millions of years might pass before anyone ever gets through the doors.

They push against each other as they struggle, and none of them particularly wants to give way to any other. But they’re always pushing, and that pushing creates stress. An earthquake happens when some of that stress finally gives way, releasing some of our shoppers into the store, or in the case of an earthquake, releasing a shockwave through the Earth’s crust.

The more pressure that was built up before the earthquake, the stronger the shockwave will be. Believe it or not, there are over a hundred thousand earthquakes every year. Most are too small for anyone to notice. The really big, damaging earthquakes happen much less often.

Where you are in the world can also impact your experience of an earthquake. People who live near an active fault line, or the place where those plates butt up against each other, experience more significant earthquakes than those of us who live here in the middle of the continent.

Scientists are always working on groundbreaking discoveries to help better predict where and when earthquakes will happen. The more advanced warning we have before an earthquake, the better we can help the people who have to endure the disaster.

Thanks for your question, Morgan. You rock.

This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ. Where you learn something new every day.

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