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Earthquake

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Quake epicenters 1963-98-1-

A map of global earthquake epicenters; measured between the years 1963 and 1998.

An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes are recorded with a seismometer, also known as a seismograph. The moment magnitude of an earthquake is conventionally reported, or the related and mostly obsolete Richter magnitude, with magnitude 3 or lower earthquakes being mostly imperceptible and magnitude 7 causing serious damage over large areas. Intensity of shaking is measured on the modified Mercalli scale.

At the Earth's surface, earthquakes manifest themselves by a shaking and sometimes displacement of the ground. When a large earthquake epicenter is located offshore, the seabed sometimes suffers sufficient displacement to cause a tsunami. The shaking in earthquakes can also trigger landslides and occasionally volcanic activity.

In its most generic sense, the word earthquake is used to describe any seismic event—whether a natural phenomenon or an event caused by humans—that generates seismic waves. Earthquakes are caused mostly by rupture of geological faults, huge amounts of gas migration, mainly methane deep within the earth, but also by volcanic activity, landslides, mine blasts, and nuclear experiments.

An earthquake's point of initial rupture is called its focus or hypocenter. The term "epicenter" generally means the point at ground level directly above this.

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