After completing this chapter, students will be able to:
- format data in preparation for GIS analyses;
- map and analyze geospatial information; and
- interpret the results of GIS analyses to make predictions about where earthquakes will occur.
Currently, it is not possible to accurately predict earthquakes in a timely fashion. It is a goal of this chapter that students discover this, as well as understand that earthquake risk varies across Earth. Because earthquake activity is associated with plate boundaries, some places on Earth have a greater likelihood of experiencing earthquakes than do other locales. Four major concepts of this chapter are:
- The risk of earthquakes striking any location varies on Earth. Proximity to plate boundaries is a major factor in determining risk.
- The largest earthquakes happen at convergent plate boundaries.
- Earth scientists study historical earthquake distributions and frequencies to come up with long-range forecasts that indicate the likelihood of earthquakes striking certain regions.
- Although accurate prediction of earthquakes is not yet possible, research continues in this area.
Scientists at the USGS describe earthquakes by their magnitude. By analyzing a year's worth of earthquake data, students come to realize that there are many more of the very small earthquakes than there are of the really big ones.
For more information and statistics about earthquakes, visit these pages at the USGS:
Earthquake Facts and Statistics
2006 Earthquake Statistics
Information on Significant Worldwide Earthquakes by Year
Note: It is not necessary for students to download the earthquake data themselves in order to carry out analyses about earthquake prediction. Some other options include the following:
- The data can be downloaded from the USGS and formated as a CSV file ahead of time, so that students can just import the data into a GIS, querying it to look for geographic patterns.
- The data can be downloaded ahead of time, but students can be given the opportunity to format it before importing it into a GIS for analysis. See the teaching resources below for completed CSV files to use in this chapter.
The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter:
- Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
- Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
- Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle.
Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions.
- The Earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition, are similar to those that occurred in the past.
Earth history is also influenced by occasional catastrophes, such as the impact of an asteroid or comet.
- Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
A variety of technologies, such as hand tools, measuring instruments, and calculators, should be an integral component of scientific investigations. The use of computers for the collection, analysis, and display of data is also a part of this standard. Mathematics plays an essential role in all aspects of an inquiry. For example, measurement is used for posing questions, formulas are used for developing explanations, and charts and graphs are used for communicating results.
- Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.
- Natural and human induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk.
Many changes in the environment designed by humans bring benefits to society, as well as cause risks. Students should understand the costs and tradeoffs of various hazards - ranging from those with minor risk to a few people to major catastrophes with major risk to many people. The scale of events and the accuracy with which scientists and engineers can (and cannot) predict events are important considerations.
The following U.S. National Geography Standards are supported by this chapter:
- How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
- How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on earth's surface.
- How to apply geography to interpret the past.
- How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.
Three to Four 45-minute sessions.
- Downloading and formatting the data: 45-60 minutes.
- Importing the data and analyzing it with a GIS: 45-60 minutes.
- Interpreting results and preparing a report or presentation: 45 minutes.
This chapter culminates with students producing a report and/or preparing a presentation explaining their Top Ten list and the place on Earth that they predict the next big earthquake will strike. Consider evaluating their products using a rubric with separate scales for 1) accuracy of science content, 2) appropriateness of supporting maps and frequency analyses, 3) clarity of ideas, and 4) persuasiveness of the location of the Next Big One.
The following are two files of earthquake data that can serve as a back-up to the instructions in Part 1.
2010-2011 Earthquakes with a Magnitude between 5.0 and 10.0 in CSV (Comma Separated Values 119kB Aug6 11)
Significant Plus Big Earthquakes in CSV (Comma Separated Values 50kB Aug6 11)
Additional links, listed below, may enhance the teaching of this chapter: