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Moment of Science: Earthquakes

This week’s subject is shaken, not stirred
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 5:01 PM EDT
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Since we’ve been living on this big rock we call Earth -- and for millions of years before -- there’s been a whole lot of shaking going on. This week, we’re taking a crack at fault lines, plate tectonics, and everything in between!

Highlights:

  • Continental plates float on molten rock below -- at about 1 to 2 inches per year. That means it would take you a good 2 million years just to get across Lucas County.
  • Types of plates:
    • Divergent plates drift apart, and magma wells up to fill in the gaps. You see that a lot on the seafloor, with new rock being formed as Earth constantly reinvents itself.
    • Convergent plates have nowhere to go but up, and it’s how you get mountain ranges... in fact, Mt. Everest is still getting 4mm taller each year!
    • Strike-slip faults grind against each other, and all of that movement creates cracks in the plates as pressure builds up over years, decades, centuries... until finally, that seismic shift sends out waves of energy.
  • We used to measure earthquakes on the Richter scale, where each number is 10x stronger than the last... but the math doesn’t check out the stronger a quake gets, so we have a modified scale now.
  • Quakes around here generally range from 2 to 4, barely feeling it even on the high end... and yes, we even have our own fault line! The Bowling Green fault parallels I-75 to the west, but don’t expect “the big one” to pop up in Wood County anytime soon. That’s reserved for places like California, where the San Andreas Fault has been responsible for some of modern history’s most infamous destructive quakes.
  • “Subduction zones” have produced 9 of the 10 largest earthquakes of the last century. Earth’s crust tries to dip under itself, eventually melting and building yet more pressure... but often has a different release valve, in the form of volcanoes. We’ll cover that next week.

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