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The extent to which earthquakes are hazardous depends on where and when they are experienced

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Introduction

'The extent to which earthquakes represent hazards depends on where and when they are experienced' Discuss this statement. A hazard can best be defined as a 'situation that poses a level of threat to life, health, property or the environment.' The overall impact of earthquakes as a natural hazard varies greatly from one place and timeframe to another. As do the types of hazards, which are categorised into primary and secondary. Primary hazards, created by the direct seismic energy of the earthquake, could include liquefaction, slope failure and tsunamis. These primary hazards can in turn trigger secondary hazards such as floods, fires, disease and destabilisation of infrastructure. A number of factors play a part in determining the severity of these hazards; the majority of which relate to the spatial and temporal circumstances surrounding an earthquake. For me, the most influential spatial factor is where the earthquake occurs in relation to the levels of development of that area. More economically developed countries (MEDC's) tend to cope better with the hazard of earthquakes than less economically developed countries (LEDC's) because they have all the necessary resources to survive the effects of an earthquake at their disposal. Like many MEDC's, Japan has a highly-skilled labour force working in world-leading economic and scientific sectors. This means they possess the knowledge, expertise and financial support to plan, predict (to some extent!) ...read more.

Middle

The location of an earthquake in relation to its plate boundary will obviously be fundamental when assessing its associated levels of danger. It would be fair to say that in most cases, including Kobe and Sichuan, places situated at the point where destructive plates converge are at greater risk than those situated on a constructive boundary or away from the plate margin (mid-point earthquakes). This is due to the fact that greater pressures are built up at this type of margin as one plate subducts beneath the other. However it is still debatable as to whether destructive boundaries produce more hazardous earthquakes than transform boundaries (conservative). Although the majority of the world's deadliest and highest magnitude earthquakes have been on destructive plate margins, there have been several examples of transform boundaries causing significantly high death tolls. Most notably in Haiti this year, where it is believed as many as 200,000 people lost their lives. The distance between the affected area and the earthquake's epicentre is also important. The epicentre is the point on the earth's surface directly above the earthquake focus and therefore land displacement and seismic activity is maximised at this point. Generally earthquakes which are within a few miles of the epicentre will experience greater suffering. For example Wenchuan County, the most severely hit area of the Sichuan Earthquake, was directly over the epicentre. ...read more.

Conclusion

In terms of the release of energy, each value on the Richter scale represents a x30 increase. It is therefore logical to expect that the stronger an earthquake, the more serious will be its effects. Similarly earthquakes that occur close to the surface, i.e. with a shallow focus, tend to result in a greater intensity of surface vibrations and so often cause the greatest loss of life and damage to property. Believe it or not, there are some positive impacts to earthquake activity that are not considered hazardous. Iceland's tourist industry has grown rapidly over the years and now accounts for over 8,500 jobs (4.5% of total workforce). Many of Iceland's tourist attractions revolve around its tectonic activity and location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and so you could argue that Iceland's economy is to some extent reliant upon earthquakes. To conclude, the key spatial and temporal factors listed above leads me to believe that the extent to which earthquakes represent hazards DOES depend on where and when they are experienced. In particular, 'where' factors such as level of development and rural-urban disparities as well as 'when' factors such as time of day and time between hazards are crucial in determining the extent of damage caused by an earthquake. However every earthquake is different and it is only when a combination of the above elements come together does an earthquake become a real hazard. After all, it is estimated that over 1,400,000 earthquakes occur annually with only up to 100 of those deemed to be potentially hazardous. ...read more.

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