Earthquakes are unpredictable and can occur at any time. At least one earthquake occurs somewhere in the world each day. Some are slight tremors that can hardly be felt, while others are much stronger.
Earthquakes happen because the earth’s tectonic plates are always moving and floating on molten rock. When stress builds up in these plates and is suddenly released, it creates seismic waves, which result in an earthquake. When earthquakes occur they make a loud noise, like a train, and the ground and buildings shake and sway. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Hours or even days later, you may still feel the earth move. This movement is called after-shocks, which are less severe than the initial earthquake.
The Richter scale has no upper limit to being able to record the magnitude of an earthquake. The most severe earthquakes so far, have not exceeded 9.5 on the Richter scale. The Richter scale uses complex mathematics to calculate the magnitude of an earthquake. For instance, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake creates 10 times the ground motion of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake and the total energy release is about 30 times greater. This in turn is 30 times greater than a 5.0 and so on.
Another scale used to describe earthquakes is the Modified Mercalli (MM). It rates the level of intensity, shaking felt and damage caused, and uses roman numerals. On this scale, I is a barely detectable tremor, and XII is catastrophic damage.
Did you know?
- The Australian Geological Survey Organisation in Canberra estimates that, on average, the Australian region experiences an earthquake of at least Richter scale magnitude 5.5, or larger, every 13-15 months.
- Ninety per cent of all earthquakes in the world take place at tectonic plate boundaries and are the result of the constant movement of the plates against each other.
- The oldest parts of Australia, the western and central areas, are most seismically active.
- The 1989 Newcastle Earthquake has been Australia's most damaging earthquake with 13 fatalities and insured damage of $1124 million.
- The deadliest earthquake ever recorded was in China in 1556. During this time many people lived in the mountains in caverns and the quake resulted in over 800,000 deaths.