How Long Do Earthquakes Last (And Why)?

Exact Answer: Up To 5 Minutes

Earthquakes are natural disasters that can cause a lot of damage to both life and property. They are often unpredictable, which can make them even more dangerous. 

The length of an earthquake can vary greatly, depending on its magnitude and other factors. In some cases, an earthquake may only last for a few seconds, but it may last up to 5 minutes. Understanding the duration of different earthquakes is important for figuring out what to do during one and helping to minimize any damage it may cause.

How Long Do Earthquakes Last

How Long Do Earthquakes Last?

TypeDuration
Earthquakes last forUp to 5 minutes
Earthquake scale1-10

There are two types of quakes – foreshocks and aftershocks. Foreshocks happen before the big earthquake, usually within 12 hours of the main event. 

These smaller earthquakes release built-up energy to relieve concentrated pressure around faults like tension in a long-stuck bow. Aftershocks occur in the days and weeks following an earthquake at places where major seismic shifts occurred. 

These changes prolong tremors to continue redistributing stress slowly back into remaining faults to allow time for them to heal themselves.

Every earthquake is different depending on location, depth and magnitude – but typically, they last between 5 seconds up to 5 minutes (depending on size). 

The duration of an earthquake depends on several factors. In general, the larger the magnitude of an earthquake, the shorter its duration. This is still variable and not always accurate when predicting how long earthquakes will last.

Between 80% and 90% of earthquakes, the majority will last much less than a minute and come in the form of what we call “shaking.” If an earthquake lasts more than 5 minutes, it is considered an exceptional event. 

Longer-lasting quakes are usually associated with fault zones or those that experience slow shear slip instead of fast rupture. Causes for such events might include ductile deformation instead of brittle fracture near the rupture.

If one is talking about a big movement in continental plates, one might get up to 5 minutes worth of trembling tremors – in general; large movements take a little while to come together and release all their energy.

Why Would Earthquakes Last So Long?

The typical frequency is about 5-20 seconds and can go up to 5 minutes, but that will depend on factors like distance from the epicenter (usually most noticeable near the surface), depth of focus (more focused earthquakes cause more shaking), and terrain type. The length of an earthquake depends on its location and magnitude.

They seem to last so long because the initial jolt is only the start of the earthquake. It takes time for the energy released in the quake to travel through the earth and cause vibration.

The longer an earthquake lasts, the more intense it will be. Those that happen in populated areas can cause so much damage – because they carry on for a longer period.

It is also because they are essentially a release of built-up energy. The Earth’s outer crust is in a constant state of movement as the tectonic plates move around on the planet’s surface. The build-up of energy occurs when two plates smash into each other, and this energy is released in the form of an earthquake.

It’s important to note that not all earthquakes are created equal. Some earthquakes are more powerful than others and can cause more damage. Earthquake magnitude is measured on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most powerful.

Earthquakes, like aftershocks, are a part of life in earthquake-prone areas. Earthquakes occur in clusters. The major quake (mainshock) is the largest one in any earthquake cluster; anything before it is a foreshock, and anything following it, is an aftershock.

Conclusion

The length of an earthquake is typically measured in seconds, minutes, hours, or days. A typical magnitude 6 can last from 15-30 seconds to more than a day. This wide range has scientists trying to understand what triggers the different lengths and how one may use them to predict future earthquakes. 

Earthquakes can be a scary experience for people who live near the epicenter. This is an average time frame, so some exceptions depend on the location and strength of the quake. The duration also depends on where the person is located as well.

References

  1. https://jgs.lyellcollection.org/content/112/1-4/1.short
  2. https://pubs.geoscienceworld.org/ssa/bssa/article-abstract/34/4/185/101140/Frequency-of-earthquakes-in-California?redirectedFrom=PDF 
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