Quake, shake, roll … Nothing is as still as it seems. We live in a truly false sense of security about the ground below us!

In fact, the tectonic plates we stand on are actually slipping and sliding, rubbing against each other sideways and every way, some going under (it’s called subsiding) under their neighbors, …

All this is happening all the time, all over Earth. We just don’t feel it in the normal run of things. The energy that these tectonic plates pack is phenomenally huge. When plates keep pushing against each other for a long period of time with huge energy, eventually, that energy has to be released. And, we have earthquakes.

Read about the measurement of earthquake magnitudes here.

More about Uttaranchal quake

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintains an online interactive map of all the earthquakes around the world. You can see it here. (I’ll call this page the Base Page or BP for convenience).

Uttarakhand earthquake map on the USGS site. Click on the image to visit the interactive map.

Go to that link, choose Interactive Map to examine the location. Move around on the map – zoom in and out to see more or less detail, click on different earthquake reports to see the information on each quake.

On the top right corner of the screen, you will see a downward pointing arrow. Click on that experiment with different kinds of display.

  • Which do you think is the best display? Why?
  • Which is the worst display? Why?

This questioning leads you to think critically about maps and their use.

For the latest Uttaranchal quake, zoom out to India and then zoom in one step at a time. You will begin to see a lot of geographical details: the epicentre, the concentric circles that show you the reach of the tremors, population centers, the topography, etc. With these in view, you can begin to speculate on the kinds of losses that may have occurred.

What do those concentric circles show us? (Hint: think of the concept of isolines – lines that join points of same value of something. E.g.: isotherms, isobars, etc.)

From the BP, follow the Regional Information link and read up the details about the region where the quake has been recorded.

  • What are the geographical connections you can make here?
  • What are the important geographical/geological details that this page offers you about the latest quake in Uttaranchal?
  • What actually caused the earthquake?

From the BP, follow the Did You Feel It link. You will find an Intensity Map on the page. Examine that map and answer these questions:

  • What type of map is it?
  • What is the theme of the map?
  • What information does it aim to convey?
  • Maps usually have certain elements in them. Which of those elements are present on this map and which (if any) are absent?
  • How have circles and colors been combined to convey information? (The star and bright red color show the epicenter: extreme shaking happened there. Now examine the other places and their population sizes.)
  • What kind of topography do you find in the quake region?
  • What are the basic details about the earthquake given at the top of the page?
  • The time of earthquake is often given using UTC. What is UTC and why is it used? What may be an alternate method to show the time of the quake?

From the BP, follow the link to Pager. Summarize the damage to life and property reported here. Why is the damage what it is?

Finally, I say that there are no such things as natural disasters! Would you agree with that? Why or why not?

Email me your answers to the questions in this article in one of three ways:

  • Email it to geo [at] tigs [dot] in (remove blank spaces, replace [at] with @ and [dot] with . )
  • Use the comment box below this article. (you must have set up an account on this site and must be logged in to use this)
  • Use the contact us page. (you must have set up an account on this site and must be logged in to use this)

Remember to include:

  • your name,
  • class (standard),
  • school name, and
  • location of your school.

I’ll publish selected answers in a future blog post. You must send in your answers before 1 March 2017. (And don’t give me any of that “Oooo… final exams are coming … that’s just an excuse! Life doesn’t stop because you have final exams coming up.)

I look forward to reading your responses.

Bonus: if you have access to GoogleEarth app on your computer, you can download a .kml file and open it in the app. From there also you can access the pages I have mentioned above.

Featured image, courtesy: United States Geological Survey

A version of this article appears in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 09 February 2017

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7 – 9 July 2017, Bengaluru

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