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Earthquakes, Megaquakes, and the Movies

USGS seismic hazard map
USGS seismic hazard map
The summer’s first big blockbuster movie “San Andreas” is out this friday. So this is a good time to get some facts about earthquakes by checking out the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. This is a great site to go to for facts, earthquake monitoring (there’s an app for that!), USGS publications and data as well as educational topics for various school levels, like this: Earthquakes, Megaquakes, and the Movies and Earthquake Facts & Earthquake Fantasy.

Throughout the history of Hollywood, disaster films have been sure-fire winners for moviemakers. Beginning with “The Wind” in 1928, Americans have been plagued by a “Twister” and “The Perfect Storm”. We’ve survived “Volcano” and “Earthquake” and “The Swarm” all followed by “Armageddon”. That’s not even mentioning us getting through “The Towering Inferno” and finally making it to “ The Day After Tomorrow”.

With amazing special effects, it’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy disaster epic. But real-world science is often at odds with Hollywood. What makes a great science fantasy film often bears no relation to real facts or the hazards people truly face.

The U.S. Geological Survey is the lead federal agency responsible for researching, monitoring and forecasting geologic hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides. And we have the further responsibility to educate Americans about the real hazards they face and to separate science fact from science fantasy.

Since earthquakes are featured in the most recent offering in the made-for-television disaster film genre, let’s start with some science-based information on them.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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