MapMaker: Earthquakes and Shake Intensity (Last 30 Days)

MapMaker: Earthquakes and Shake Intensity (Last 30 Days)

Explore the earthquakes occurring in the last 30 days and the extent of their shaking with this map layer.

Grades

9 - 12+

Subjects

Earth Science, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Geography, Geology, Oceanography, Physical Geography

Earthquakes occur when two tectonic plates of Earth’s crust slide past each other along a fault. Earth’s plates are always moving, which causes a build-up of friction and tension. When that energy releases suddenly, an earthquake occurs. The shaking you feel during a quake is caused by seismic waves passing through the lithosphere, which is the rigid layer of the planet composed of the crust and upper mantle. Tens of thousands of measurable earthquakes occur each year.

Scientists use a tool called a seismograph to measure earthquakes. A seismograph has a heavy base fixed to the ground and a weight with a pen that hangs on a string or spring. During an earthquake, the base shakes with the ground while the weighted pen remains still. Paper on a rolling drum records the motion creating a record of the earthquake called a seismogram. Today, many seismographs are electronic and record the swinging of the pendulum by changes in electric voltages generated during the quake.

The size of an earthquake is its moment magnitude, a quantitative measure tied to an event’s seismic moment (the function of the earthquake's area, average distance of the fault's slip, and a constant determined by local rock type) as opposed to the amplitudes of seismic waves of a seismograph. This method of classifying earthquakes was developed in the 1970s by Hiroo Kanamori and Thomas C. Hanks, and reliably measures the largest earthquakes with a magnitude greater than eight.

Worldwide, earthquakes are measured by a series of seismographs, which are part of the Global Seismographic Network. Scientists use three seismographs to record one event. This is a technique called triangulation; it more precisely measures an earthquake’s epicenter.

You can help scientists too! If you experience an earthquake you can use the Did You Feel It? website and let experts know. This helps them map the area impacted.

Earthquakes have a wide variety of effects on Earth’s surface and its inhabitants. An earthquake can cause the ground to rise, sink, or separate. It can trigger tsunamis, landslides, or liquify sandy ground. Human-built landscapes also see significant damage. Earthquakes can also topple buildings or bridges, crumble roads, bend railways, or snap pipelines spilling their contents. Sometimes an earthquake’s damage is just an inconvenience, while others result in loss of life. Many municipalities in areas where earthquakes are common have adopted building policies designed to prevent disastrous impacts during this natural disaster.

Do you know what to do to prepare for an earthquake?

  1. Practice drop, cover, and hold on.
  2. Create an emergency plan (and don’t forget your pets).
  3. Prep your home by securing heavy and large furniture and fragile items.

This map layer displays the location of earthquakes that have occurred in the last 30 days and the extent of the shake intensity provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response (PAGER) system. This map layer updates regularly, with new events or events that have expired past 30 days on the map. Earthquakes with a magnitude that measures less than three are retained for three days after they occur and those between three and four and a half for seven days.

Explore any particular quake by clicking on one of the points. This will open a popup showing you the date and time it occurred, its magnitude, and a link where you can learn more about that particular event on the USGS website. Zooming into a given event will show you the shake intensity, or the amount of shaking a particular place experiences. Typically, the most intense shaking occurs nearest the epicenter of an earthquake and lessens with distance depending on the geology.

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Expert Reviewer
Anita Palmer
Manager
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

August 31, 2022

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