Earthquakes occur when energy stored in elastically strained rocks is suddenly released. This release of energy causes intense ground shaking in the area near the source of the earthquake and sends waves of elastic energy, called seismic waves, throughout the Earth. Earthquakes can be generated by bomb blasts, volcanic eruptions, sudden volume changes in minerals, and sudden slippage along faults. Earthquakes are definitely a geologic hazard for those living in earthquake prone areas, but the seismic waves generated by earthquakes are invaluable for studying the interior of the Earth.
The point within the earth where the fault rupture starts is called the focus or hypocenter. This is the exact location within the earth were seismic waves are generated by sudden release of stored elastic energy.
The epicenter is the point on the surface of the earth directly above the focus. Sometimes the media get these two terms confused.
Seismic waves are the vibrations from earthquakes that travel through the Earth; they are recorded on instruments called seismographs. Seismographs record a zig-zag trace that shows the varying amplitude of ground oscillations beneath the instrument. Sensitive seismographs, which greatly magnify these ground motions, can detect strong earthquakes from sources anywhere in the world. The time, locations, and magnitude of an earthquake can be determined from the data recorded by seismograph stations.
Two of the most common methods used to measure earthquakes are the Richter scale and the moment magnitude scale.
The Richter scale is used to rate the magnitude of an earthquake, that is the amount of energy released during an earthquake.
The Richter scale doesn’t measure quake damage (which is done by Mercalli Scale) which is dependent on a variety of factors including population at the epicentre, terrain, depth, etc. An earthquake in a densely populated area which results in many deaths and considerable damage may have the same magnitude as a shock in a remote area that does nothing more than frightening the wildlife. Large-magnitude earthquakes that occur beneath the oceans may not even be felt by humans. Richter Scale of Earthquake Energy
The magnitude of an earthquake is determined using information gathered by a seismograph.
The Richter magnitude involves measuring the amplitude (height) of the largest recorded wave at a specific distance from the seismic source. Adjustments are included for the variation in the distance between the various seismographs and the epicentre of the earthquakes.
The Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic scale, meaning that each order of magnitude is 10 times more intensive than the last one.