Earthquakes in Movies

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GEOGRAPHY @ THE
MOVIES: EARTHQUAKES

Right: Image of
the world’s
plates.
Earthquakes
nomrally occur
in faults, which
is where 2
plates meet.

2012’s earthquake: Hollywood fancy or
serious possibility?
Roland Emmerich, director of previous
Hollywood blockbusters ‘Godzilla’ (1998)
and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ (2004), has
brought us a new disaster film named
‘2012’. Having proved (and been criticized
about) he is familiar with using digital visual
effects, he shows us he is no stranger to
cinematic disasters in directing a new film
about a man attempting to bring his family
to refugee and to try to escape the planet’s
heightened change in the elements. The
story is based on the idea that the end of
the Mayan calendar on December 21st,
2012 foretells an apocalypse.
The film features volcanic eruptions, floods,
tsunamis- and a 10.9 earthquake that rips
California apart.
1

First of all: what are earthquakes?
Earthquakes are sudden (and sometimes,
violently destructive) shakings of the ground
caused by moving plates. Our planet’s
seemingly stable surface is actually made
up of slowly moving pieces of rock.
The earth’s crust is made up of several
pieces called plates. The plates under the
oceans are called oceanic plates and the
rest are continental plates. Most
earthquakes occur along the edges of the
oceanic and continental plates. For
example, earthquakes often occur along the
west coast of North America, Alaska, Japan
and the Philippines.

Seismic waves are recorded by seismographs

The quake is felt most strongly at the epicenter

Left: Diagram
of the anatomy
of an
earthquake.

Earthquakes happen when two plates get
stuck whilst moving and the pressure is
released. The point inside the earth’s crust
where the pressure is released is called the
focus . The epicenter is
the point on the earth’s surface directly
above the focus. As earthquake energy is
released in seismic waves, they spread out
from the focus so waves are felt most
strongly at the epicenter, which is the point
at ground level directly above the focus,
which is underground. They normally occur
in places where two plates meet, called
faults.
Seismic waves are measured by an
instrument named the seismometer.
Scientists can determine from this reading
how much energy was released during an
earthquake and therefore, it’s magnitude.
Seismometers are used by a recording
device called a seismograph. Seismographs
are able tp detect ground motions caused
by earthquakes from far away.

2

Right: Seismograph readings recorded on paper

In the movie, the 9.5 magnitude earthquake
struck Los Angeles, California.This is
accurate as earthquakes happen quite often
in Los Angeles because of the city’s
proximity to the San Andreas fault.
However, they usually just measure 3 to 4
on the Richter magnitude scale and can
barely be felt. Earthquakes higher than that
rarely happen, though scientists say in the
next 30 years or so, Los Angeles might
experience earthquakes on the scale of 6 to
7. If this prediction is true (though there is
no way of proving this hypothesis right or
wrong), then the time that the 9.5
magnitude earthquake

Right: A truck
hanging off the
edge of a
collapsed
bridge after the
Shaanxi
earthquake,
1556, in the
epicenterSichuan

would be unrealistic, as it would only be
2012.

tragedy resulted in a tsunami that affected
southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the
Philippines, eastern New Zealand,
southeast Australia and the Aleutian Islands
in Alaska.

Earthquakes are considered to be disasters
as they may cause significant damage. Not
only do they lead to major loss of animal
and plant life, they are also indirectly
Tsunamis are giant water waves caused by
responsible for most deaths during and after earthquakes, volcanic eruptions under the earthquakes.
sea or when the sea floor suddenly deforms
and vertically displaces the overlying water....
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