Living in Earthquake Country (6-12)
Lesson 4: Seismic Waves

Seismic Waves

This lesson consists of two activities. Students will learn about the four types of seismic waves, their characteristics and effects. Then students predict the level of damage each wave might cause in a residential area and test their predictions against several computer animations.

Concepts and learning outcomes

The students will understand that:

  • Earthquakes release energy in the form of seismic waves, which cause shaking.
  • Shaking spreads out from the entire rupture patch, not just the epicenter.
  • A single earthquake produces several different types of seismic waves that have different effects.
  • Shaking may result in damage in the form of structural failure, liquefaction, or landslides.


Time requirements


Two - three 50-minute classes


Vocabulary


P wave, S wave, Raleigh wave, Love wave, surface waves, epicenter, rupture


Activities


1. Investigating Seismic Waves: Students learn about the four types of seismic waves, their characteristics and effects.
2. Predicting Wave Damage: Students predict the level of damage each wave might cause in a residential area and test their predictions against several computer animations.


Homework


Optional or extra credit: Following activity #1, students find alternative ways to demonstrate seismic waves, other than by using slinkies.


Extensions


Tell students that there about CUREE, consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering whose members are universities, researchers and students from different disciplines, professional engineers, earth scientists, planners, and architects that study earthquakes and their impacts. One of their projects is the development of shake tables to test the structural engineering of houses and their ability to withstand earthquakes.

Have students explore the Caltech Woodframe Project website which shows the shake table tests of a model house.

Ask students what they found the most surprising from the results of these shake tests. NOTE: The CUREE-Caltech Woodframe Project consists of coordinated engineering investigations and implementation activities whose objective is to significantly reduce earthquake damages to wood frame construction. This category of construction includes larger-size apartment and condominium buildings as well as houses; non-residential (e.g. school and commercial) as well as residential buildings; and both existing and new construction. The project is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through a grant administered by the California Governors Office of Emergency Services.

Savage Earth Animation shows different types of faults and how seismic waves travel through the earth. This is great. Kids should be looking at this when they do the wave activity!

Note: Both sites can be accessed directly from the Earthquake Hazards Student Web Page.


Resources used

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