An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the earth’s crust. At the earth surface earthquakes manifest themselves by shaking and sometimes displacing the ground. The maximum loss during the earthquake is caused because of the collapse of the physical systems (houses, buildings, industries, dams etc.) which in turn causes great loss of economy, life and property.

Earthquakes are complex phenomena as they are an expression of the forces driving tectonic plate motions, the state of temperature, stress and pore pressure within the earth, structural heterogeneities, material properties of rocks and existing faults zones under the surface

The location below the earth’s surface where the earthquake starts is called the hypocenter, and the location directly above it on the surface of the earth is called the epicenter.


1.Tectonic Earthquake:Earthquakes caused by plate tectonics are called tectonic quakes. They account for most earthquakes worldwide and usually occur at the boundaries of tectonic plate.An earthquake is what happens when two blocks of the earth suddenly slip past one another. The surface where they slip is called the fault or fault plane.

Induced Earthquakes

Induced quakes are caused by human activity, like tunnel construction, filling reservoirs and implementing geothermal or fracking projects.

Volcanic Earthquakes

Volcanic quakes are associated with active volcanism. They are generally not as powerful as tectonic quakes and often occur relatively near the surface. Consequently, they are usually only felt in the vicinity of the hypocentre.

Collapse Earthquakes

Collapse quakes can be triggered by such phenomena as cave-ins, mostly in karst areas or close to mining facilities, as a result of subsidence.

  • An earthquake is a sudden vibration or trembling in the Earth. Earthquake motion is caused by the quick release of stored potential energy into the kinetic energy of motion.
  • Friction is overcome when the accumulating stress has enough force to cause a sudden slippage of the rock masses. The magnitude of the shock wave released into the surrounding rocks is controlled by the quantity of stress built up because of friction, the distance the rock moved when the slippage occurred, and the ability of the rock to transmit the energy contained in the seismic waves.
  • The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 involved a 6 m horizontal displacement of bedrock whereas the 2015 Nepal Earthquake involved horizontal displacement of 2 m. 

Earthquake Waves

  1. Earthquakes are a form of wave energy that is transferred through bedrock. Motion is transmitted from the point of sudden energy release, the earthquake focus as spherical seismic waves that travel outward in all directions. The point on the earth’s surface directly above the focus is termed the epicentre.
  2. Seismic waves are the waves of energy caused by the sudden breaking of rock within the earth or an explosion. They are the energy that travels through the earth and is recorded on seismographs.

    Types of Seismic Waves

    There are several different kinds of seismic waves, and they all move in different ways. The two main types of waves are body waves and surface waves. Body waves can travel through the earth’s inner layers, but surface waves can only move along the surface of the planet like ripples on water. Earthquakes radiate seismic energy as both body and surface waves.


Traveling through the interior of the earth, body waves arrive before the surface waves emitted by an earthquake. These waves are of a higher frequency than surface waves.


The first kind of body wave is the P wave or primary wave. This is the fastest kind of seismic wave, and, consequently, the first to ‘arrive’ at a seismic station. The P wave can move through solid rock and fluids, like water or the liquid layers of the earth. It pushes and pulls the rock it moves through just like sound waves push and pull the air. Have you ever heard a big clap of thunder and heard the windows rattle at the same time? The windows rattle because the sound waves were pushing and pulling on the window glass much like P waves push and pull on rock. Sometimes animals can hear the P waves of an earthquake. Dogs, for instance, commonly begin barking hysterically just before an earthquake ‘hits’ (or more specifically, before the surface waves arrive). Usually people can only feel the bump and rattle of these waves.

P waves are also known as compressional waves, because of the pushing and pulling they do. Subjected to a P wave, particles move in the same direction that the the wave is moving in, which is the direction that the energy is traveling in, and is sometimes called the ‘direction of wave propagation’.


The second type of body wave is the S wave or secondary wave, which is the second wave you feel in an earthquake. An S wave is slower than a P wave and can only move through solid rock, not through any liquid medium. It is this property of S waves that led seismologists to conclude that the Earth’s outer core is a liquid. S waves move rock particles up and down, or side-to-side–perpendicular to the direction that the wave is traveling in (the direction of wave propagation).


Travelling only through the crust, surface waves are of a lower frequency than body waves, and are easily distinguished on a seismogram as a result. Though they arrive after body waves, it is surface waves that are almost enitrely responsible for the damage and destruction associated with earthquakes. This damage and the strength of the surface waves are reduced in deeper earthquakes.


The first kind of surface wave is called a Love wave, named after A.E.H. Love, a British mathematician who worked out the mathematical model for this kind of wave in 1911. It’s the fastest surface wave and moves the ground from side-to-side. Confined to the surface of the crust, Love waves produce entirely horizontal motion.


The other kind of surface wave is the Rayleigh wave, named for John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh, who mathematically predicted the existence of this kind of wave in 1885. A Rayleigh wave rolls along the ground just like a wave rolls across a lake or an ocean. Because it rolls, it moves the ground up and down, and side-to-side in the same direction that the wave is moving. Most of the shaking felt from an earthquake is due to the Rayleigh wave, which can be much larger than the other waves

. Measurement

  • The strength of an earthquake can be measured by a device called a seismograph. When an earthquake occurs this device converts the wave energy into a standard unit of measurement like the Richter scale.
  • In the Richter scale, units of measurement are referred to as magnitudes. The Richter scale is logarithmic. Thus, each unit increase in magnitude represents 10 times more energy released.
  • Many large earthquakes occur some distance away from a plate boundary. Some geologists believe that these powerful earthquakes may be occurring along ancient faults that are buried deep in the continental crust.
  • Recent seismic studies in the central United States have discovered one such fault located thousands of metres below the lower Mississippi Valley. Some large Earthquake occurs at particular locations along the plate boundaries. Scientists believe that these areas represent zones.

 Damage and Destruction

  • Earthquakes are a considerable hazard to humans. Earthquakes can cause destruction by structurally damaging buildings and dwellings, and also trigger fires, tsunamis and mass wasting. Earthquakes can also take human lives.
  • The amount of damage and loss of life depends on a number of factors. Some of the most important factors are

(a) Time of day– higher losses of life tend to occur on weekdays between the hours of 9 a.m and 4 p.m. During this time interval many people are in large buildings because of work or school. Large structures are often less safe than smaller homes in an earthquake.

(b) Magnitude of the earthquake and duration of the event.

(c) Distance from the earthquake’s focus- the strength of the shock waves diminish with distance from the focus.

(d) Geology of the area effected and soil type-some rock types transmit seismic wave energy more readily. Buildings on solid bedrock tend to receive less damage. Unconsolidated rock and sediments have a tendency to increase the amplitude and duration of the seismic waves, increasing the potential for damage. Some soil types when saturated become liquefied.

(e) Type of building construction- some building materials and designs are more susceptible to earthquake damage.

(f) Population density-more often means greater chance of injury and death.


1.Ground Rupture and Shaking:Ground shaking is a term used to describe the vibration of the ground during an earthquake. Ground shaking is caused by body waves and surface waves. As a generalization, the severity of ground shaking increases as magnitude increases and decreases as distance from the causative fault increases.

2.Loss of life and Property-All of the above contribute to fatalities.

3.Landslides-Past experience has shown that several types of landslides take place in conjunction with earthquakes. The most abundant types of earthquake induced landslides are rock falls and slides of rock fragments that form on steep slopes. Shallow debris slides forming on steep slopes and soil and rock slumps and block slides forming on moderate to steep slopes also take place, but they are less abundant. Reactivation of dormant slumps or block slides by earthquakes is rare.

Large earthquake-induced rock avalanches, soil avalanches, and underwater landslides can be very destructive.

4.Tsunamis-Tsunamis are water waves that are caused by sudden vertical movement of a large area of the sea floor during an undersea earthquake. Tsunamis are often called tidal waves, but this term is a misnomer. Unlike regular ocean tides, tsunamis are not caused by the tidal action of the Moon and Sun. The height of a tsunami in the deep ocean is typically about 1 foot, but the distance between wave crests can be very long, more than 60 miles. The speed at which the tsunami travels decreases as water depth decreases. In the mid-Pacific, where the water depths reach 3 miles, tsunami speeds can be more than 430 miles per hour. As tsunamis reach shallow water around islands or on a continental shelf; the height of the waves increases many times, sometimes reaching as much as 80 feet. The great distance between wave crests prevents tsunamis from dissipating energy as a breaking surf; instead, tsunamis cause water levels to rise rapidly along coast lines.

Tsunamis and earthquake ground shaking differ in their destructive characteristics. Ground shaking causes destruction mainly in the vicinity of the causative fault, but tsunamis cause destruction both locally and at very distant locations from the area of tsunami generation.

5.Fires-Fires are a major source of damage after earthquakes. Ground rupture and liquefaction can easily rupture natural gas mains and water mains, both contributing to the ignition of fires and hindering the efforts to control them. I

6.Liquefaction:Ground shaking during an earthquake can be enough to weaken rock and unconsolidated materials to the point of failure, but in many cases the shaking also contributes to a process known as liquefaction, in which an otherwise solid body of sediment is transformed into a liquid mass that can flow.As a consequence of liquefaction, clay-free soil deposits, primarily sands and silts, temporarily lose strength and behave as viscous fluids rather than as solids.

Important Topics for Prelims 2020

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