The Earth can be divided into four major layers: the inner core, outer core, mantle and crust. The crust and the upper part of the mantle are like a thin skin on the surface of the Earth.

Unlike the skin on our bodies, though, this skin on the Earth is not all in one piece. Instead, it consists of many pieces that fit together a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.

Scientists call these puzzle pieces “tectonic plates.” Tectonic plates differ from jigsaw puzzle pieces in that they constantly but slowly move around, sliding past and/or bumping into one another.

The edges of the tectonic plates are called “plate boundaries.” The rough plate boundaries occasionally get stuck, but the rest of the plates keep moving.

When a plate moves far enough, its edges break free along an area called a “fault.” When two tectonic plates slip past one another suddenly, the people who live in the area close to the fault experience an earthquake.

The spot on the surface of the Earth directly above where the earthquake occurs underground is called the “epicenter” of the earthquake. After an earthquake, there are often smaller earthquakes — called “aftershocks” — that occur in the same place. These aftershocks have been known to continue for weeks, months and even years after the main earthquake.

Earthquakes can be very destructive. The sudden motion of tectonic plates can cause injuries and serious property damage, especially because there is often little or no advance warning of earthquakes.

When plate boundaries become stuck, their usual energy from motion is stored and builds up until, during an earthquake, it is released suddenly in the form of seismic waves that radiate outward from a fault in all directions. As these seismic waves reach the surface of the Earth, they shake the ground and everything on it.

If you ever experience an earthquake firsthand, it’s important to remember and follow a few safety tips:

  • Get low and take cover under a protective object, such as a sturdy table or desk.
  • Hold on and try to stay as steady as possible.
  • Stay inside until the earthquake ends.
  • Stay away from windows, furniture and other items that could fall on you.
  • If you’re in bed, stay there and protect your head with your pillow.
  • If you’re outside, move to a clear spot away from buildings, trees and power lines.
  • If you’re in a car, slow down and stop in a clear area until the earthquake stops.

Take earthquake safety seriously! Scientists estimate that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year. Of these, approximately 100,000 of them can be felt, and at least 100 of them cause some kind of damage.

 

26 Join the Discussion

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    • Hi, Clayton! Be careful and please make sure you follow the safety tips in today’s Wonder of the Day if you ever experience one of those “mini” earthquakes (or a not-so-mini one) again! Thanks for being a GREAT Wonder Friend and commenting today! :-)

    • Hi, Waffle123! We search high and low for the best video to go along with each Wonder of the Day! Sometimes we find the best video on YouTube, but sometimes it might be found on Vimeo or another video library website. Thanks so much for your comment today and for visiting Wonderopolis! :-)

    • That would make a GREAT Wonder of the Day, Waffle123! Did you know you can suggest ideas for future Wonders of the Day anytime you want to? Just click on the “nominate a wonder” link at the top of the page! It’s really easy…we can’t wait to hear all the cool things you’re wondering about! :-)

    • Well, we’re glad you stopped by for a visit, then, KeyKey! We also hope you learned some new things from this Wonder of the Day® about Earthquakes! :-)

  1. Wonderopolis, do you think the world is going to end? I hope it doesn’t. I don’t want this great world to end.

    • Hi, “Wonder!” We appreciate your great WONDERing about the world! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and leaving us a SUPER comment! :-)

  2. Hi Wonderopolis.. I found this website at the orientation of the school The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx. I just wanted to mention that my teacher told the classes to visit this site. I’m sure glad I did.

    • We are so excited to know that you’re WONDERing with us, Ashley! How cool that you and all your friends at The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx are hanging out at Wonderopolis! We are glad to know that your teacher introduced you to our site– we hope to see you and your Wonder Friends soon! :)

    • Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis today, Maddy! We’re really sorry to hear that you can’t see the videos for the Wonders of the Day. Some schools and school districts place a “block” on videos from websites, so they can protect their students. You might want to check with your teacher to ask if he or she might be able to help you see the videos on Wonderopolis. :)

    • Absolutely, Sarah! This Wonder lists a few safety tips. Here they are again, in case you missed them:

      -Get low and take cover under a protective object, such as a sturdy table or desk.
      -Hold on and try to stay as steady as possible.
      -Stay inside until the earthquake ends.
      -Stay away from windows, furniture and other items that could fall on you.
      -If you’re in bed, stay there and protect your head with your pillow.
      -If you’re outside, move to a clear spot away from buildings, trees and power lines.
      -If you’re in a car, slow down and stop in a clear area until the earthquake stops.

      Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

    • Oh no, Pinky! No need to be afraid. Just review the safety tips and be prepared in case one happens. But, there is no need to worry about it. Just stay calm, and remember that you know what to do in case of an earthquake. Keep WONDERing, Wonder Friend! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is an earthquake?
  • What should you do to stay safe during an earthquake?
  • How many earthquakes occur each year?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

If you find yourself stuck outside when an earthquake hits, you should get away from buildings, power lines and other tall objects that could fall over. Try Jess and Sam’s Earthquake Experiment to see why!

Would you believe that earthquakes happen all the time? It’s true! If you don’t believe us, just check out United States Geological Survey’s interactive map of the Latest Earthquakes in the USA!

 

Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Xpeditions’ The Three Little Pigs in Earthquake Land lesson to learn some of the basics of earthquakes and volcanoes!

 

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