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Earthquakes and Why They Happen  

The ground shakes, buildings tumble and the earth heaves and cracks. Serious earthquakes are terrifying and dangerous, but are rare in the U.S. But why do earthquakes happen? The earth is made up of four layers – the inner core, outer core, mantle and crust. The mantle and crust are a thin skin compared to the other layers. The mantle is about 1,750 miles thick, while the crust is only about 8 miles thick. This thin skin is broken into pieces called tectonic plates. The plates are like puzzle pieces, floating on top of the Earth’s inner core. Sometimes the pieces slide under or against each other and become stuck.

Fun Facts for Kids on Earthquakes - Image of a Road Damaged by Earthquake - Natural Disasters and Continents Quiz

Fun Facts for Kids on Earthquakes – Image of a Road Damaged by Earthquake

When the pieces slide apart, they create tremendous force. This force causes the earth to shake and ripple. Over 80 percent of the earth’s earthquakes happen in the Pacific Ocean, in a place known as the “Ring of Fire.” Annually, around 10,000 people die in earthquakes every year. Most of the deaths happen when people are trapped in falling buildings. After an earthquake, mudslides, fires and tsunamis can also hurt people.

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Seismograph Machine Image

Seismologists can tell how serious an earthquake is by a machine called a seismograph, which rates the intensity of the quake’s shaking.

Fun Facts All About Earthquakes for Kids

  • Alaska, California and Hawaii have the most earthquakes in the U.S. Other western states, like Nevada, Idaho, Washington and Oregon are prone to earthquakes or can be damaged by earthquakes that happen in Alaska and California.
  • Alaska has more earthquakes than any other U.S. state. It has experienced over 12,000 earthquakes in the last 30 years. Alaska is followed by California, Hawaii, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Utah.
  • Underneath the Earth’s surface lie tectonic plates. These plates move and shift over time. Sometimes they slide under one another or push up against each other, creating enormous stress. When they move again, they cause an earthquake.
  • Scientists who study earthquakes are called seismologists.
  • Seismologists can tell how serious an earthquake is by a machine called a seismogram, which rates the intensity of the quake’s shaking.
  • Scientists can use special instruments to record an earthquake’s strength. An earthquake rated 3 to 5 is minor; an earthquake rated 5 to 7 is moderate to strong; an earthquake rated 7 to 8 is major; an earthquake rated 8 or above is great.
  • On average, one earthquake measuring 8 or above happens every year.
  • The area near Japan in the Pacific Ocean has the most earthquakes in the world. This area also has a lot of volcanoes. It is called the Ring of Fire.
  • Most people who die in earthquakes die when buildings collapse on them. Others die in floods, fires or mudslides that happen after the earthquake.
Easy Earth Science for Kids on Earthquakes - Shifting Tectonic Plates that Cause Earthquakes image

Easy Earth Science for Kids on Earthquakes – Shifting Tectonic Plates that Cause Earthquakes image

Earthquake Vocabulary

  1. Heave: move up and down or ripple
  2. Terrifying: scary
  3. Tectonic plates: the plates that make up the Earth’s crust
  4. Tremendous: extreme, huge
  5. Tsunami: huge waves or sheets of water in the ocean
  6. Deadly: capable of causing death
  7. Surface: area near the top
  8. Instrument: device
  9. Mudslide: when mud comes sliding down a mountain or hill at rapid speeds

Learn More All About Earthquakes and Why They Happen

Imagine that you’re sitting in school when the ground begins to shake. Books fall off the shelves and you might even be thrown from your chair. That’s what happens when an earthquake occurs. Earthquakes are the most deadly of all natural disasters. Over 10,000 people die every year in earthquakes.

Earthquake Safety Image

If you’re in a building in an earthquake, get under a table or desk and hold onto it.

Easy Science All About Earthquakes for Kids Video

Watch this interesting video all about earthquakes:

An animated video discussing about tectonic plates and earthquakes.

Earthquake Q&A

Question: Do all earthquakes cause damage?

Answer: Most earthquakes cause only minor shaking. Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes every year. Some of them are so mild people don’t even feel them.

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Question: What can I do to be safe in an earthquake?

Answer: If you’re in a building in an earthquake, get under a table or desk and hold onto it. If you’re outside, move to an open area away from trees, buildings or power lines.

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Question: What should I do to keep safe in an earthquake?

Answer: The best way to survive an earthquake is to take cover under a sturdy table. Get down low and place your hands over your head. You can even duck down in a door frame or curl up next to a couch or bed. Don’t go outside, though. Many people die from falling debris.

 

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