Earthquakes And Volcanoes

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: Types, distribution and their impact:-


The study of seismic waves provides a complete picture of the layered interior. An earthquake in simple words is shaking of the earth. It is a natural event. It is caused due to release of energy, which generates waves that travel in all directions.

Why does the earth shake?

The release of energy occurs along a fault. A fault is a sharp break in the crustal rocks. Rocks along a fault tend to move in opposite directions. As the overlying rock strata press them, the friction locks them together. However, their tendency to move apart at some point of time overcomes the friction. As a result, the blocks get deformed and eventually, they slide past one another abruptly. This causes a release of energy, and the energy waves travel in all directions. The point where the energy is released is called the focus of an earthquake, alternatively, it is called the hypocentre. The energy waves  travelling in different directions reach the surface. The point on the surface, nearest to the focus, is called epicentre. It is the first one to experience the waves. It is a point directly above the focus.

Earthquake Waves:-

All natural earthquakes take place in the lithosphere. It is sufficient to note here that the lithosphere refers to the portion of depth up to 200 km from the surface of the earth. An instrument called ‘seismograph’ records the waves reaching the surface.

Earthquake waves are basically of two types — body waves and surface  waves. Body waves are generated due to the release of energy at the focus and move in all directions travelling through the body of the earth.  The body waves interact with the surface rocks and generate new set of waves called surface waves. These waves move along the surface. The velocity of waves changes as they travel through materials with different densities. The denser the material, the higher is the velocity. Their direction also changes as they reflect or refract when coming across materials with different densities. There are two types of body waves. They are called P and S-waves. P-waves  move faster and are the first to arrive at the surface. These are also called ‘primary waves’. The P-waves are similar to sound waves. They travel through gaseous, liquid and solid materials. S-waves arrive at the surface with some time lag. These are called secondary waves. An important fact about S-waves is that they can travel only through solid materials. This characteristic of the S-waves is quite important. It has helped scientists to understand the structure of the interior of the earth. Reflection causes waves to rebound whereas refraction makes waves move in different directions. The variations in the direction of waves are inferred with the help of their record on  seismograph. The surface waves are the last to report on seismograph. These waves are more destructive. They cause displacement of rocks, and hence, the collapse of structures occurs.

Propagation of Earthquake Waves:-

Different types of earthquake waves travel in different manners. As they move  or propagate, they cause vibration in the body of the rocks through which they pass. P-waves vibrate parallel to the direction of the wave. This exerts pressure on the material in the direction of the propagation. As a result, it creates density differences in the material leading to stretching and squeezing of the material. Other three waves vibrate perpendicular to the direction of propagation. The direction of vibrations of S-waves is perpendicular to the wave direction in the vertical plane. Hence, they create troughs and crests in the material through which they pass. Surface waves are considered to be  the most damaging waves.

Emergence of Shadow Zone:-

Earthquake waves get recorded in seismographs located at far off locations. However, there exist some specific areas where the waves are not reported. Such a zone is called the ‘shadow zone’. The study of different events reveals that for each earthquake, there exists an altogether different shadow zone.


Types of Earthquakes

(i) The most common ones are the tectonic earthquakes. These are generated due to sliding of rocks along a fault plane.

(ii) A special class of tectonic earthquake is sometimes recognised as volcanic earthquake. However, these are confined to areas of active volcanoes.

(iii) In the areas of intense mining activity, sometimes the roofs of underground mines collapse causing minor tremors. These are called collapse earthquakes.

(iv) Ground shaking may also occur due to the explosion of chemical or nuclear devices. Such tremors are called explosion earthquakes.


Earthquake is a natural hazard. The following are the immediate hazardous effects of earthquake:

(i) Ground Shaking

(ii) Differential ground settlement

(iii) Land and mud slides

(iv) Soil liquefaction

(v) Ground lurching

(vi) Avalanches

(vii) Ground displacement

(viii) Floods from dam and levee failures

(ix) Fires

(x) Structural collapse

(xi) Falling objects

(xii) Tsunami



Volcanoes are classified on the basis of nature of eruption and the form developed at the surface. Major types of volcanoes are as follows:

Shield Volcanoes:-

Barring the basalt flows, the shield volcanoes are the largest of all the volcanoes on the earth. The Hawaiian volcanoes are the most famous examples. These volcanoes are mostly made up of basalt, a type of lava that is very fluid when erupted. For this reason, these volcanoes are not steep. They become explosive if somehow water gets into the vent; otherwise, they are characterised by low-explosivity. The upcoming lava moves in the form of a fountain and throws out the cone at the top of the vent and develops into cinder cone.

Composite Volcanoes

These volcanoes are characterised by eruptions of cooler and more viscous lavas than basalt. These volcanoes often result in explosive eruptions. Along with lava, large quantities of pyroclastic material and ashes find their way to the ground. This material accumulates in the vicinity of the vent openings leading to formation of layers, and this makes the mounts appear as composite volcanoes.


These are the most explosive of the earth’s volcanoes. They are usually so explosive that when they erupt they tend to collapse on themselves rather than building any tall structure. The collapsed depressions are called calderas. Their explosiveness indicates that the magma chamber supplying the lava is not only huge but is also in close vicinity. Flood Basalt Provinces. These volcanoes outpour highly fluid lava that flows for long distances. Some parts of the world are covered by thousands of sq. km of thick basalt lava flows. There can be a series of flows with some flows attaining thickness of for hundreds of km. The Deccan Traps from India, presently covering most of the Maharashtra plateau, are a much larger flood basalt province. It is believed that initially the trap formations covered a much larger area than the present.

Mid-Ocean Ridge Volcanoes

These volcanoes occur in the oceanic areas. There is a system of mid-ocean ridges more than 70,000 km long that stretches through all the ocean basins. The central portion of this ridge experiences frequent eruptions.


Intrusive Forms

The lava that is released during volcanic eruptions on cooling develops into igneous rocks. The cooling may take place either on reaching the surface or also while the lava is still in the crustal portion. Depending on the location of the cooling of the lava, igneous rocks are classified as volcanic rocks cooling at the surface) and plutonic rocks (cooling in the crust). The lava that cools within the crustal portions assumes different forms. These forms are called intrusive forms.


A large body of magmatic material that cools in the deeper depth of the crust develops in the form of large domes. They appear on the surface only after the denudational processes remove the overlying materials. They cover large areas, and at times, assume depth that may be several km. These are granitic bodies. Batholiths are the cooled portion of magma chambers.


These are large dome-shaped intrusive bodies with a level base and connected by a pipe-like conduit from below. It resembles the surface volcanic domes of composite volcano, only these are located at deeper depths. It can be regarded as the localised source of lava that finds its way to the surface. The Karnataka plateau is spotted with domal hills of granite rocks. Most of these, now exfoliated, are examples of lacoliths or batholiths. Lapolith, Phacolith and Sills As and when the lava moves upwards, a portion of the same may tend to move in a horizontal direction wherever it finds a weak plane. It may get rested in different forms. In case it develops into a saucer shape, concave to the sky body, it is called lapolith. A wavy mass of intrusive rocks, at times, is found at the base of synclines or at the top of anticline in folded igneous country. Such wavy materials have a definite conduit to source beneath in the form of magma chambers (subsequently developed as batholiths). These are called the phacoliths.  The near horizontal bodies of the intrusive igneous rocks are called sill or sheet, depending on the thickness of the material. The thinner ones are called sheets while the thick horizontal deposits are called sills.


When the lava makes its way through cracks and the fissures developed in the land, it solidifies almost perpendicular to the ground. It gets cooled in the same position to develop a wall-like structure. Such structures are called dykes. These are the most commonly found intrusive forms in the western Maharashtra area. These are considered the feeders for the eruptions that led to the development of the Deccan traps.