Understanding How Earthquakes Get Their Shake

Tectonic Plates
Posted at 5:42 PM, Sep 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 17:42:00-04

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) -- Earlier this week, Mexico City was leveled by a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Less than a day later, a 6.1 earthquake occurred just off of Japan's east coast.

While small earthquakes happen along and near fault lines everyday, it's these larger ones that remind us how dangerous they can be.

As for what causes these earthquakes, it all comes down to how much energy is released by the earth at that time.

In all, there are seven major tectonic plates with a number of smaller ones on the outermost shell of the planet.

The tectonic plates interact with each other everyday, by either pushing against each other, drifting apart, or sliding past one another.

Occasionally, one plate gets hung up on another. When this happens, energy begins building up on that area. Once the plates push past each other, that energy is released causing an earthquake.

The more energy that's able to build up, the more devastating it can be, and the further away it can be felt.

"As the energy releases outward from the focus, the further it goes, the less energy there is left," says Dr. Bob Lutz, an associate professor of Oceanography and Environmental Sciences at Tallahassee Community College. '"So Florida, has felt some seismic waves before."

Florida is far enough away from tectonic plate boundaries, so earthquakes here are very rare. In the past, however, we have felt and detected energy from larger earthquakes before.

While it's not exactly like an earthquake, Florida will sometimes feel a release of energy from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf. This happens when an oil chamber collapses as the oil is being removed.