Animations

Each series of animations below contains text, graphics, animations, and videos to help teach Earth Science fundamentals.

  • Click links or scroll down to view the available animations.
  • Check out our Earth Science Videos pages.

Animations

     Hazards

          Orphan tsunami

          How will 3 buildings, engineered equally, on different bedrock react to an earthquake?

     Plate Tectonics

          Tectonics & earthquakes of Alaska—More than just plate boundaries NEW!

          GPS - Understanding Future Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest

          Solomon Islands Regional Tectonics

          Gulf of California tectonics

          Sumatran Tectonics

          What is a hotspot?

          How do Earth's tectonic plates interact?

          Do subducting plates slide smoothly past one another?

          How is stress stored between tectonic plates?

          Do faults break all at once, or in many short segments?

          What are the 4 basic classes of faults?

          What happens when the crust is stretched?

          GPS -- Measuring Plate Motion

     Earth Structure

          Stratigraphy

          Same earthquake, different stations; why do the seismograms look different?

          How do we capture the motion of an earthquake?

          How do seismographs work?

          How do earthquakes reveal secrets of Earth's interior?

          Why do seismic waves travel a curving path through the Earth?

          How do P & S waves give evidence for a liquid outer core?

          Can an earthquake be compared to a drop of water on a pond?

     Earthquakes

          Tsunamis Generated by Megathrust Earthquakes NEW!

          Early Earthquake Warning

          1964 Great Alaska Earthquake

          Earthquake Focal Mechanisms

          Understanding Moment Magnitude

          Animations about the New Madrid Seismic Zone & earthquakes of 1811–1812

          How many different ways can an earthquake shake us?

          Where do travel-time graphs come from?

          How can you model earthquakes in the classroom?

          Seismic Signatures

     Volcanoes

          Subduction and Volcanoes COMING SOON!

          Volcanic Monitoring

Translations

View the Spanish, Chinese, and Welsh translations of our animations.

Interactive Animations

View the Interactive Animations page.

Teachable Moments (Disponible en Español)

View the Teachable Moments animations page.

 


Animations

Hazards

Orphan Tsunami

Orphan Tsunami

This simplified animation illustrates both the subduction-zone processes that lead to a "ghost forest" as well as the evidence that scientists collected to determine that the Pacific Northwest has had many great earthquakes and tsunamis in the past, and will again in the future. This is based on the work of Brian Atwater who published his findings in the book "The Orphan Tsunami of 1700" (USGS Professional Paper 1707).

 

How will 3 buildings, engineered equally, on different bedrock react to an earthquake?

Liquefaction Liquefaction

Three buildings of different subsurface react differently to seismic waves. One important geologic factor that affects the level of ground shaking experienced from an earthquake is the presence of solid bedrock versus soft sediment. Soft soils amplify ground shaking. An example from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake are included.

 

Liquefaction

 

Plate Tectonics

Tectonics & earthquakes of Alaska—More than just plate boundaries

gps

Alaskan tectonics are dominated by the Pacific-North American plates. The megathrust boundary between the plates results in both the 4,000-km-long Aleutian Trench and in the arc of active volcanoes that lie subparallel to the trench. This animation discusses the range of tectonic activity from megathrust earthquakes to accretion of geologic terranes.

 

GPS - Understanding Future Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest

gps

The Pacific Northwest subduction zone is a mirror-image setting to the pre March 11, 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, Japan. By understanding the geologic processes off the Pacific Northwest coastline, we can prepare for a similar earthquake. This animation shows evidence for a major earthquake on January 26, 1700, and explains why another is forecast for the future.

 

Solomon Islands Regional Tectonics

gps

The Solomon and Vanuatu Islands are subduction-related features caused by the subduction of the Indo-Australian Plate beneath the greater Pacific Plate. It is a seismically active area of frequent large earthquakes. This animation addresses both the subduction earthquakes, as well as a strike-slip component between the island chains. Basically the earthquakes are caused by the northeasterly movement of the Indo-Australian Plate as it dives beneath the Pacific Plate, but there are variations along the plate boundary.

 

Gulf of California tectonics

gulf

This animation depicts the evolution of the spreading ridge that marks the boundary between the Pacific and North American Tectonic Plates. The on-land part of this submarine spreading ridge extends into Baja California, Mexico and the Imperial Valley of California where it is transitioning from ridge-transform boundary to the continental boundary along the San Andreas fault zone.

 

Sumatran tectonics

sumatra

A magnitude 8.7 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sumatra on April 11, 2012. 
Why didn't it generate a tsunami as did the M9.0 earthquake in 2004? It turned out that it wasn’t a subduction- related earthquake, but was:
1) the largest strike-slip earthquake ever recorded
2) the largest intra-plate earthquake ever recorded,
3) the 10th largest earthquake of any kind ever recorded,
4) the most complex earthquake ever recorded.

 

What is a hotspot?

Hotspot Hotspot

Two animations explore hotspot volcanism from both a plate-tectonic perspective and as a single-island history.

 

How do Earth's tectonic plates interact?

Plate Boundaries Plate Boundaries

The static size of the Earth implies that crust must be destroyed at about the same rate it is being created. Plate Tectonics provides the mechanism used to recycle the Earth’s crust. Three boundary types are shown here. Video lecture discusses four basic plate boundaries.

 

Plate Boundaries Plate Boundaries

 

Do subducting plates slide smoothly past one another?

Elastic Rebound Elastic Rebound

Frictional stress builds up along a locked subduction-zone boundary. When that stress exceeds a critical value, a sudden failure occurs along the fault plane that can result in a "mega-thrust" earthquake releasing strain energy and radiating seismic waves. [See Divergent and Convergent Plate Boundaries for more-detailed depiction.

 

How is stress stored between tectonic plates?

Elastic Rebound Elastic Rebound

Rock is deformed as it builds up strain in the plates at locked plate boundaries. Stress and strain increase along the contact until the friction is overcome and rock breaks. Video lecture showing demonstration of elastic rebound and brittle material using a yardstick.

 

Elastic Rebound Elastic Rebound

 

Elastic Rebound

 

Do faults break all at once, or in many short segments?

Asperities Asperities

An asperity is an area on a fault that is stuck or locked. Scientists study areas along long fault zones that have not had earthquakes in a long time in order to determine where the next earthquake may occur; as long faults move, all areas of it will, at some point, become "unstuck" causing an earthquake relative the the size of the asperity that finally breaks.

 

AsperitiesAsperities

 

What are the 4 basic classes of faults?

Earthquake Faults Earthquake Faults

These animations of four faults are simplified examples of fault motion intended to show basic movement. Video lecture has classroom demonstration of faults and folds.

 

Earthquake FaultsEarthquake Faults

 

Earthquake Faults

 

What happens when the crust is stretched?

Basin and Range Basin and Range

Over most of the last 30 million years, movement of hot mantle beneath the region caused the surface to dome up and then partially collapse under its own weight, as it pulled apart. Currently, there is very little actual stretching going on, and the small amount is concentrated on the Western and Eastern edges of the Basin and Range.

 

Basin and RangeBasin and Range

 

 

Basin and Range

 

GPS - Measuring Plate Motion

GPSVolcano Monitoring

Highly accurate measurements made by the GPS system allow scientists to record millimeter-scale slip on faults that cannot ordinarily be measured. This record of land movement provides a critical key to understanding plate tectonics, plate-boundary interaction, volcano deformation, and more. Scientists have placed

 

GPSGPS

hundreds of GPS stations across the Western U.S., in an attempt to learn more about the events building up to earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault system and the Cascadia Subduction Zone. On a narrower scale, they are also used to monitor deformation of active volcanoes.

 

GPSGPS

 

Basin and Range

 

Earth Structure

Stratigraphy

Stratigraphy

A hypothetical cross section is studied by going back to the beginning to study its progressive geologic history. Why study rock relations? The earthquake potential of an area can be determined by studying the geologic history of the rock strata, both locally and regionally. Faults and folds record a probable earthquake history, so by studying the age of the rocks and their deformation we interpret past earthquakes and gain an understanding about the potential for future earthquakes.

 

Same earthquake, different stations; why do the seismograms look different?

NetworkNetwork

One seismic station can give information about how far away the earthquake occurred, but yields little other information. The cartoonish amplified ground motions show the compressive P wave, the shearing S wave, and the rolling surface wave motions recorded by many stations with their characteristic seismograms. See also Travel-time curves.

 

Network

 

How do we capture the motion of an earthquake?

3-Component 3-Component

Modern seismometers include 3 elements to determine the simultaneous movement in 3 directions: up-down, north-south,and east-west. Following an earthquake, the ground responds to P, S, and surface waves by moving in all directions. Each direction of movement gives information about the earthquake.

 

How do seismographs work?

SeismographSeismograph

Animations of a drum-style vertical seismograph stations that record vertical and horizontal motion. Although the drum-roll seismographs are used only for museum-type venues, they illustrate the basic principles of operation.

 

Seismograph

 
 

How do earthquakes reveal secrets of Earth's interior?

TomographyTomography

Seismic tomography is an imaging technique that uses seismic waves generated by earthquakes and explosions to create computer-generated, three-dimensional images of Earth's interior. Human CAT scans are often used as an analogy. Here we simplify things and make an Earth of uniform density with a slow zone that we image as a magma chamber.

 

Why do seismic waves travel a curving path through the Earth?

RefractionRefraction

Seismic waves through the Earth follow the same laws of refraction and reflection as any other wave at interfaces. When they encounter boundaries between different media, the wave will react according to Snell’s law, and the angle of refraction across the boundary will depend on the velocity of the second media relative to the first. The

 

RefractionRefraction

angle of reflection will be equal to the angle of incidence. Various material properties (i.e., elastic moduli) control the speed and attenuation of seismic waves. Before we answer the question posed in the title, we will step through animations increasing in complexity to introduce the concept of refraction.

 

RefractionRefraction

 

Refraction

 

How do P & S waves give evidence for a liquid outer core?

Shadow ZoneShadow Zone

Most of the knowledge we have about Earth’s deep interior comes from the fact that seismic waves penetrate the Earth and are recorded on the other side. Simple P- and S-waves traverse the mantle by similar paths, but their behavior at the core-mantle boundary affect different “shadow zones” after ~103°. This set of

 

Shadow ZoneShadow Zone

animations not only explores the two major seismic shadow zones, but also addresses the paths of some of the common phases of P and S waves caused by reflections and refractions of seismic waves caused by changes within the Earth.

 

Shadow Zone

 

 

Can an earthquake be compared to a drop of water on a pond?

DripDrip

This set of animations was inspired by a visualization of ground motion resulting from the February 21, 2008 M 6.0 earthquake that occurred near Wells, NV sending a ripple of ground motion to hundreds of seismic stations. To understand how seismic waves migrate away from an earthquake, we combined the animation at

 

DripDrip

lower right with the image of a faucet to illustrate the classic Earth science functional analogy; “Seismic waves radiate outward from an earthquake’s epicenter like ripples on water”. And then employed Dr. Geophysics to explain the Earth-science concepts in a nutshell.

 

Drip

 

 

Earthquakes

Tsunamis Generated by Megathrust Earthquakes

Tsunamis Generated by Megathrust Earthquakes

Subduction-zone mega-thrust earthquakes, the most powerful earthquakes in the world, can produce tsunamis through a variety of structures that are missed by simple models including: fault boundary rupture, deformation of overlying plate, splay faults, and landslides during earthquakes. From a hazards viewpoint, it is critical to remember that tsunamis are multiple waves that often arrive on shore for many hours after the initial wave.

 

Earthquake Early Warning

Early

An earthquake warning system uses existing seismic networks to detect moderate to large earthquakes. Computers, communications technology, and alarms are devised to notify the public while an earthquake is in progress.

 

1964 Great Alaska Earthquake

Alaska

The 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake occurred on Good Friday, March 27th. It and rocked the state with strong ground shaking for 4.5 minutes. Liquefaction in and around Anchorage tore the land apart. At magnitude 9.2, it was the second largest quake ever recorded by seismometers. Only 9 people died from the earthquake, but 130 died from the subsequent tsunami; 10 as far away as Crescent City, CA. This animation shows the underlying causes of that subduction-zone mega-thrust earthquake, and tells how research done on the ground deformation shortly after the earthquake by George Pflaker, US Geological Survey, and colleagues contributed to confirmation of early theories of plate tectonics.

 

Earthquake Focal Mechanisms

Focal Mechanisms

Focal mechanisms are released after an earthquake to show what type of Earth movement produced the earthquake. These are typically shown using a so-called "beachball" diagram. They refer to the orientation of the fault plane that slipped and the slip vector, and are also called fault-plane solutions.

 

Understanding Moment Magnitude

Moment Magnitude

The "moment magnitude" scale has replaced the Richter scale for large earthquakes. Scientists have developed far-more sensitive seismometers that, with faster computers, have enabled them to record & interpret a broader spectrum of seismic signals than was possible in the 1930's, when the Richter magnitude was developed. Find out what scientists learn from seismograms.

 

Animations about the New Madrid Seismic Zone & earthquakes of 1811–1812

NMSZNMSZ

This animation set commemorates the 200th anniversary of the most destructive earthquakes on the North American continent east of the Rockies that began suddenly on December 16th, 1811. Three >7.5 magnitude earthquakes, and countless aftershocks, caused damage over an area of 600,000 km2, and was felt over an area of 5 million km2.

 

NMSZNMSZ

Explore our suite of animations and interactive rollovers to learn about:

 

NMSZNMSZ

    1) Eye-witness response to the events (from journals and newspaper accounts), including depicting how a river can run backwards as reported by witnesses. Scroll to see how growing U.S. populations would be affected if it occurred at any time after that.

 

NMSZNMSZ

    2) Geology and geologic evolution of the region that is simplified and consolidated into easy to digest bits. From 500 million years ago to what we see now.

 

NMSZNMSZ

    3) How seismologists analyze the subsurface and study evidence for past earthquakes to understand the tectonic history of a region.

 

NMSZNMSZ

 

How many different ways can an earthquake shake us?

Buildings

An earthquake generates seismic waves that 1) penetrate the Earth as body waves (P & S) or 2) travel as surface waves (Love and Rayleigh). Each wave has a characteristic speed and style of motion. Here we exaggerate the motion by bouncing a building to show what sensitive instruments record as seismic waves arrive at the station.

 

Where do travel-time graphs come from?

Travel-timeTravel-time

A travel time curve is a graph of the time that it takes for seismic waves to travel from the epicenter of an earthquake seismograph stations varying distances away. The velocity of seismic waves through different materials yield information about Earth’s deep interior.

 

Travel-timeTravel-time

 

How can you model earthquakes in the classroom?

Earthquake MachineEarthquake Machine

This block-and-sandpaper model can be used to teach the concept of elastic rebound and how energy is stored and released. Earthquakes can provide a useful context for teaching or reviewing many basic physics concepts, such as sliding and static friction, forms of energy and conversion from one form to another, and the elastic properties of materials.

 

Earthquake MachineEarthquake Machine

 

Earthquake Machine Earthquake Machine

 

Seismic Signatures

Seismic SignaturesSeismic Signatures

Seismograph stations don't just record earthquakes; they record anything that shakes the instrument. These animations show the growth of seismograms from a variety of ground-shaking events. When the ground is jarred energy is released in the form of seismic waves that radiate from the source source in all directions. The

 

Seismic SignaturesSeismic Signatures

different types of energy waves shake the ground in different ways and travel through the earth at different velocities. Seismologists are trained to distinguish between events. The animations in this set were done in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and the Mount St. Helens Institute in recognition of the 30th Anniversary of the

 

Seismic Signatures Seismic Signatures

1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

 

Volcanoes

Volcano Monitoring

Volcano MonitoringVolcano Monitoring

Precursory seismicity, deformation of the crater floor and the lava dome, and, to a lesser extent, gas emissions provided telltale evidence of forthcoming eruptions, which is why we selected these three methods for our first volcano monitoring animations. The animations in this set were done in collaboration with the

 

Volcano Monitoring

US Geological Survey & Mount St. Helens Institute in recognition of the 30th Anniversary of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.