Causes of Earthquakes

An earthquake is sudden ground movement caused by the sudden release of energy stored in rocks, called the elastic rebound theory. Earthquakes happen when so much stress builds up in the rocks that the rocks rupture. The energy is transmitted by seismic waves. Each year there are more than 150,000 earthquakes strong enough to be felt by people and 900,000 recorded by seismometers!

In an earthquake, the initial point where the rocks rupture in the crust is called the focus (sometimes called the hypocenter). The epicenter is the point on the land surface that is directly above the focus. In about 75% of earthquakes, the focus is in the top 10 to 15 kilometers (6 to 9 miles) of the crust. Shallow earthquakes cause the most damage because the focus is near where people live. However, it is the epicenter of an earthquake that is reported by scientists and the media. For more information on the science of earthquakes click here.



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