Mapping Worldwide Earthquake Epicenters


An Activity for Seismic Discovery

Computer-based visualizations and/or current earthquake reports are used to determine worldwide patterns of earthquake magnitude, depth, and location. The short 5- and 15-minute web-based visualizations are best suited for informal learning settings. The longer activities include: a 30-45 minute exercise, and a semester-long (or longer) exercise best suited for a formal classroom setting. These activities use the IRIS Earthquake Browser (IEB; and are designed to stimulate interest in global earthquake patterns and their causes. This activity provides a natural transition to teaching plate tectonics. The inquiry-based nature of the activities promotes critical thinking and questioning.

Why is it important to learn about where earthquakes occur? More than 143 million people are exposed to potential earthquake hazards in the U.S. that could cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Understanding where earthquakes occur, both locally and globally, is fundamental to earthquake hazard mitigation. An important tool for mitigation is the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning system for the West Coast of the U.S. which detects significant earthquakes quickly so that alerts can be delivered to people and automated systems.


These lessons are designed to provide learners the skills to:

  • Discover unique patterns of earthquakes
  • Identify locations of plate boundaries
  • Identify types of plate boundaries
  • Identify locations of large earthquakes
  • Develop skills in plotting latitude and longitude
  • Develop skills in navigating the IRIS Earthquake Browser