1. Our Science >
  2. Ask a Scientist >
  3. Q. What causes earthquakes?

Q. What causes earthquakes?


Answers to your Questions:

Q. What causes earthquakes?

A. Earthquakes are caused by faults or tectonic plate boundaries moving.


Q. How many earthquakes happen in a day?

A. There is an estimated 50-80 earthquakes every day in New Zealand.  Most cannot be felt.


Q. How many earthquakes does New Zealand have in a year?

A.  Around 20,000 every year.  Most of the time, they cannot be felt by us.


Q. What is the longest earthquake in history?

A. Earthquakes usually last 10 – 30 seconds.  However, during the very largest earthquakes, the rupture can continue for up to 5 minutes.  For these earthquakes very high levels of aftershocks mean that continuous ground shaking can be felt for hours.


Q. Can you feel an earthquake from the sky?

A. No.  Earthquakes are only felt on the ground.


Q. What’s the difference between a trench and a fault line?

A. A trench is created where one tectonic plate subducts under another tectonic plate.  A fault line is a crack in the upper layer of the Earth’s crust.  This fault is caused by stress caused by the tectonic plate movements

Q. Why do animals sense natural hazards before humans?

A. Animals are a lot more sensitive to the earth and the movements of it than humans.


Q. Will the plate that runs along the east coast of the north island go off and cause a mega quake in the next 100 years?

A. Scientists do believe this could happen, so this is why they are studying the Hikurangi margin and learning as much as they can.  This is also why we all need to learn the signs of natural hazards and making sure we and our families are prepared.


Q. What do earthquakes do to houses? 

A. The shaking of the ground will move objects within the house.  A strong quake can knock TVs and cabinets over, open drawers and cupboards.  The movement of the ground makes building sway and shake and if they are not built properly, will break and fall.


Q. Can you die from an earthquake?

A. Not from the earthquake itself – it’s more from falling objects, buildings, landslides etc