A Few Facts—and Falsehoods—About Earthquakes

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Seismogram of the 2011 Japan earthquake. (Photo: P K/Flickr)

Seismogram of the 2011 Japan earthquake. (Photo: P K/Flickr)

The headline pretty much says it all. Without further ado (and having done very little thus far) I offer four interesting facts and falsehoods on Earth (and moon) quakes:

1. FACT: THERE ARE A WHOLE LOT OF EARTHQUAKES EVERY YEAR

There are about 500,000 detectable earthquakes around the world every year, according to the United States Geological Survey. About one-fifth of those quakes can be felt, and 100 or so are damaging.

In the U.S., California alone sees about 10,000 earthquakes per year.

2. FACT: THERE ARE QUAKES ON THE MOON

We’re not the only celestial planet to experience earthquakes. Though less frequent than their Earthly counterparts, “moonquakes” do in fact occur. A result of tidal interactions with the Earth, there are four types of moonquakes, according to NASA: deep moonquakes, a result of tidal stresses, that occur some 700 kilometers below the moon’s surface; shallower quakes between 20 to 30 kilometers below the moon’s surface; smaller vibrations caused by meteorites; and thermal quakes, a product of the sun’s illumination on—and subsequent expansion of—the moon’s freezing crust.

Buzz Aldrin deploys a seismometer in the Sea of Tranquillity. (Photo: NASA)

Buzz Aldrin deploys a seismometer in the Sea of Tranquillity. (Photo: NASA)

And while they don’t immediately impact us humans, moonquakes could pose a problem in the future construction of a potential moon colony.

3. FACT: MAN-MADE EARTHQUAKES ARE A SERIOUS CONCERN

Over the last few years, there’s been an outflow of studies linking oil and gas industry practices—specifically wastewater injection—with earthquakes. As Pacific Standard’s Francie Diep reported last month: “Wastewater injection and brine production—both common industry practices—alter the pressure underneath the Earth. If they're able to reach a fault, those pressure changes can trigger earthquakes.”

4. FALSE: BIGGER EARTHQUAKES ARE MORE LIKELY TO OCCUR IN THE MORNING

Much like the weather myth, earthquakes have no preference for any time of day, according to the California Department of Conservation. The massive 1989 Loma Prieta quake that struck California, for example, occurred at 5:02 p.m. And this latest quake in Nepal? Around noon.

5. FALSE: ANIMALS CAN SNIFF OUT AN EARTHQUAKE

There are lots of benefits to owning a dog; earthquake-sense is not one of them. Perpetuated at least in part by simplistic disaster movies, the dog myth surprisingly persists today. But, as the California Department of Conservation points out, you’ll never know if your dog is acting funny because there’s an impending earthquake, or because ... well, it’s a dog.

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