Earthquakes are caused by the sudden release of slowly accumulated strain energy along a fault in the earth’s crust. Earthquakes and volcanoes occur most commonly at the collision zone between tectonic plates. Earthquakes represent a particularly severe threat due to the irregular time intervals between events, lack of adequate forecasting, and the hazards associated with these:
- Ground shaking is a direct hazard to any structure located near the earthquake’s center. Structural failure takes many human lives in densely populated areas.
- Faulting, or breaches of the surface material, occurs as the separation of bedrock along lines of weakness.
- Landslides occur because of ground shaking in areas having relatively steep topography and poor slope stability.
- Liquefaction of gently sloping unconsolidated material can be triggered by ground shaking. Flows and lateral spreads (liquefaction phenomena) are among the most destructive geologic hazards.
- Subsidence or surface depressions result from the settling of loose or unconsolidated sediment. Subsidence occurs in waterlogged soils, fill, alluvium, and other materials that are prone to settle.
- Tsunamis or seismic sea waves, usually generated by seismic activity under the ocean floor, cause flooding in coastal areas and can affect areas thousands of kilometers from the earthquake center.