The Quievering Earth

Jakarta, Indonesia 26 December 2004 – After having a wonderful Christmas day and had been eating a lot of good foods, I thought it is a good idea to burn some calories. I woke up early in the morning at 7 am to play soccer with my friends. We had a very exciting match for an hour and then suddenly the land our feet suddenly trembled! Surprised by the shake, we decided to stop the match and I saw frightened expression on everyone’s face.


As I reached back home, I turned on the TV and saw a huge news that there was a powerful 9.1 Mw magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra. The earthquake created a tsunami and destroyed the city of Banda Aceh. Despite being thousands of miles away from the eartquake’s epicentre, the shockwave spread and reached to Jakarta.

Tsunami devastated the city of Banda Aceh. Image: Flickr

How on Earth an Earthquake occur?

Earthquakes are caused due when rocks underground suddenly breaks along a fault. These rocks are moving due to a stress that exceeds the strength of the rocks. As these rocks moved, a vibration named as seismic waves are generated. These waves will eventually travel outward into the earth’s surface and make the ground shake. It is like a hammer hitting a bell and the entire earth then resonates!

But, where do most earthquakes occur most of the time?

Earthquake is a natural phenomenon and it can happen anytime and anywhere. But, the most vulnerable regions such as Indonesia, Philippine, and Japan are those which are located near the Ring of Fire. It is a line where the edge/boundary of different earth’s tectonic plate are located and these plate boundaries are made up of many faults that would give a huge potential for rocks to break.

Ring of Fire is known to be the most potential cause because subduction happens right here. Subduction is when the tectonic plates move as one plate is shoved under another plate. It would be difficult for us to imagine how the plate’s boundary underneath the ring of fire look like, but it is basically thousand times much bigger than the size of the soccer field I used to play and it has a thick depth. Well, imagine how strong is the energy it created when two different plates are subducting each other: BAAAMMM!!!

Places located near the Ring of Fire are where most of frequent earthquake occur. Image: Wikimedia

Can Scientists predict Earthquake?

It would be really beneficial if scientist can predict where and when an earthquake can happen in the future. I wouldn’t go playing soccer with my friends that day if I knew there will be an earthquake coming. Millions of human lives can be saved if scientist can create the technology. Unfortunately, scientists have tried many various experiments to predict earthquake, but none of them have been successful. The probability of a future earthquake can be calculated based on scientific data, but they have no way of telling when it will happen.

2 Responses to “The Quievering Earth”

  1. Jethro Hasoloan says:

    Hi Julian, thanks for your comment. I somewhat agree with your opinion regarding power-law distribution. Seismologists usually use the Gutenberg-Richter power-law distribution to predict earthquake. It is a mathematical curve that can illustrate relation between probability and earthquake magnitude & really helps seismologists to predict likely future earthquake of a specific magnitude in some part of the planet.
    However, this law has some limitations. The law fails to predict that extreme event would happen. This is because the law uses empirical relationship between previous largest earthquake magnitude, oceanic lithosphere age, earth’s convergence rate and from the available earthquake history. Before the 2004 9.1 magnitude Sumatra earthquake happened, most of prior earthquake hazard around Sumatra are only below 8.5 magnitude. Therefore, the law’s unable to predict if 9.1 magnitude earthquake would occur in the future because looking from the available earthquake history, none of Sumatran earthquake were previously 9+.

  2. Julian Carlin says:

    An interesting point about predicting earthquakes: They fall under the category of systems with “self-organized criticality” – meaning there is a build up of stress in the system, which is released pseudo-randomly as an earthquake whenever too much is built up. Mathematically these types of systems follow a “power-law” distribution, meaning you have a pretty good chance of waiting both long and short times between earthquakes. There are many natural systems that follow this type of distribution, but somewhat surprisingly it seems that economies have crashes with this same type of distribution.

    So if someone could predict an earthquake, mathematically they would also be able to predict when a market would crash, earning them quite a lot of money!

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