PATRICIA BARNES-SVARNEY            Science Writer/Editor/Weaver
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Physical/Earth Science

articles about the universe we live in...


            All right. So I took a title to an old Simon & Garfunkle song. It’s because things DO seem to be slipping or sliding away. Just take the oft-heard-about earthquakes in Indonesia or the rumbling in Japanese towns. Contrary to the seemingly solid ground we all think we live on, the Earth is definitely in motion.

            Why all this rumbling and shaking? It’s pure logic (or physics). We’re sitting on the somewhat solid crust, the only solid layer of the Earth, cooled after billions and billions of years of geologic time. Inside the Earth, “hard” rock (no relation to Hard Rock Cafe, by the bye) doesn’t exist. It’s hot and molten, the legacy of the planet’s birth eons ago. This magma, as it’s called, moves sometimes at glacial (slow) speeds, sometimes like on the Autobahn (pretty darn fast). Put them both together and there’s a lot of squirming going on.

            Picture it this way: Say that creek behind your house experiences a flash flood. Say you decide to throw a tarp over the rushing water, spreading the material out from bank to bank. Notice how the water runs underneath, churning and making the tarp jump, twist, and undulate. That’s what is going on underneath the crust, but much hotter and in much, much larger terms. All that “rushing” semi-solid and liquid rock causes the crust to move, shift, twist, and turn—resulting in the earthquakes we hear about and/or experience for ourselves.

            What’s the hardest part about dealing with earthquakes? You never know when they will strike. Sure, there have been psychics, soothsayers, animal studies, and the occasional scientific treatise on predicting quakes, but so far, no one has consistently pulled quake occurrences out of the proverbial earthquake hat.

            (Hopefully, this article will get everyone to turn to my book published by Thunder’s Mouth Press: When the Earth Moves: Rogue Earthquakes, Tremors, and Aftershocks—and you can get it at a bookstore near you!)


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