Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Family & Parenting
  3. Family

Causes of earthquakes

See also

Figuring out the cause of earthquakes has puzzled scientists for centuries. In fact, today we still only have theories about the exact cause of earthquakes. While we know a lot about the general cause of earthquakes, we know very little about their precise origins.

In general, earthquakes are caused by a process known as faulting. Faulting is a sudden side-to-side or vertical movement of the tectonic plates along a break in the Earth’s surface.

In order to understand this, it is important to understand that the surface of the Earth is not a solid surface. Instead, it is covered in several tectonic plates. These plates cover the whole Earth, but they are not immobile. In fact, the study of the movement of these plates is called plate tectonics.

No one is entirely sure why these plates move, but it is commonly believed that their motion is linked with the movement of rock and metal beneath the Earth’s surface. What is known is where the divides, or faults, between these plates are located. By tracking areas where earthquake activity is most intense, scientists have been able to identify major and minor fault lines such as the San Andreas Fault in California, the Peru-Chile Trench along the western border of South America and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The tectonic plates are not completely separate from each other. In fact, most of them have had rock form between their edges over millions of years. At the fault lines the motion between the plates is not smooth. As the plates move against each other the strain in the rock that they share builds up. Eventually, the rocks reach a point where these rocks cannot withstand any more stress and strain. Eventually, the rock breaks apart and the two plates move. What we refer to as an earthquake is the shaking that occurs from the breaking rock.

Plates do not always move apart from each other, but when they do the result is a gash or rift in the Earth. The most famous of these is along the San Andreas Fault in California. In some cases, the plates are actually pushing together. When this happens, a new mountain range can form. Still, other earthquakes are the result of plates moving alongside each other. The effects of this movement can be astonishing. In some cases, surveyors have found that mountains have grown by as much as eighteen inches, while rifts have formed that were over two feet wide.



  • Dead babies found
    Seven dead babies were found in Utah resident Megan Huntsman's old home
    Shocking Discovery
  • Kendall Jenner
    Get the Coachella looks: Kendall Jenner’s nose ring, green hair and edgy nails
    Coachella Look
  • Dog's Easter basket
    How to fill your dog’s Easter basket with the perfect toys
    Easter Basket
  • Rabbit owners
    Bringing home the bunny: Important information for rabbit owners
    7 Photos
  • Haunted island
    The world’s most haunted island may soon be the most haunted luxury resort
    Haunted Resort
  • Sunken ferry
    Search continues for missing passengers after a ferry sinks off the South Korean coast
    Sunken Ferry

Related Videos:

  • This week: Queens County Farm Museum holding a screening of an Earth Day film
    <div class="video-info" data-id="40002521" data-param-name="playList" data-provider="5min" data-url=""></div>
  • Pills And Tablets On Spoon
    <div class="video-info" data-id="517988875" data-param-name="playList" data-provider="5min" data-url=""></div>
  • Passport to parts unknown
    <div class="video-info" data-id="517291465" data-param-name="playList" data-provider="5min" data-url=""></div>

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about and apply today!