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Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On: A History of Seismicity

Jeffrey Syken

“The further you are from the last earthquake, the closer you are to the next one”

So quipped a famous seismologist familiar with the unpredictability of one of nature’s most formidable forces: Earthquakes. Fortunately, most earthquakes occur in remote areas and/or under the great oceans of the world, but even then they present a real and present danger (i.e. Tsunamis). In fact, just such a danger revealed itself on December 26th 2004 (a/k/a “Boxing Day”) when Tsunami waves generated by a powerful offshore earthquake inundated coastal regions of Indonesia (and several other nations), costing over a quarter-million people their lives. Indeed, it was the first great natural disaster of the 21st Century.

Those who live in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” – stretching from Chile in the east to New Zealand in the west, know all too well the catastrophic consequences of earthquakes and the ensuing danger of rapidly spreading fires. In fact, it’s the raging fires rather than collapsing buildings that typically cause most of the property damage and deaths resulting from modern-day earthquakes in populous regions of the world. One of the most powerful earthquakes in history occurred in New Madrid, Missouri in 1811-12, however, there were few deaths reported since the area was sparsely populated. Next time ‘round it will be a different story considering the region's many urban population centers.

On April 18th 1906, one of the greatest earthquakes in history devastated the “City by the Bay” – San Francisco. When the statue of Geologist and Naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) toppled headfirst from its perch on the second floor facade of Stanford University’s Zoology building – becoming forever associated with and symbol of the great temblor, the story went around that curiosity at the shaking ground got the better of Agassiz and he just had to see what was going on underground. Today, the study of earthquakes: their cause/s, prediction, effects etc. is an evolved science based on many years of research, sophisticated technologies and dedicated professionals determined to predict and minimize the loss of life/property when the next “Big One” strikes.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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