Earth can be full of extremes. But today, there is only one extreme. Non-stop earthquakes that last an entire year.
What would it be like to live under such shaky circumstances? How would buildings hold up in these conditions? And what could you do to adapt to this rumbling lifestyle?
Earth’s tectonic plates are constantly moving. And as they move past each other, pressure builds up. Eventually, that force overcomes the friction, and this causes an earthquake.
Earthquakes like this could occur at any time. And if they happened all the time, it would be the ultimate test of the resilience of many buildings. While buildings may be good at handling vertical forces from weight and gravity, they are not so well-equipped for the side-to-side forces of earthquakes.
Many innovative designs and materials such as flexible foundations, shock absorption and memory alloys could be used to make buildings more earthquake-proof. But under such extreme circumstances, would the only safe place for you be in a middle of a field?
On average, there are 20,000 earthquakes each year. If one occurred near you, how would it feel? Well, that depends on how close you’d be to the epicenter.
Close by, you would experience a sudden large jolt, followed by strong shaking. This would last 10 to 30 seconds. Even in the most massive quakes, this shaking doesn’t last longer than a few minutes.
But in this scenario, the vibration wouldn’t stop. Instead of 10 seconds, it would go on for an entire year. It would be challenging to stand up through all this. Everything not bolted down in your house would likely topple to the ground.
Violent shaking would shift buildings off their foundations, creating massive property damage. Even the most resilient buildings would struggle to withstand the constant vibration.
The financial and human costs would be astronomical. And if the earthquake kept going, those costs would keep rising. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people would be displaced from their homes. Many would die.
If you were lucky enough to be further from the epicenter, this would all be less dramatic. Usually, you’d only feel a gentle bump. But because the earthquake wouldn’t end for a while, you’d feel a permanent rolling and shaking sensation.
Your senses would be in a constant state of conflict. Your eyes would observe one thing while your muscles feel another. And your inner ears would sense something completely different.
These mixed signals would overload your brain, and you’d be feeling nauseous most of the time. Even if you don’t usually experience motion sickness, you would feel queasy. And there wouldn’t be any relief.
Experiencing a regular earthquake could leave you hypervigilant, on constant alert for the next one. You could be depressed because your home no longer feels safe. But living like this for one full year? You’d have to rethink every aspect of your life.
If the earthquakes remained at a magnitude of less than one on the Richter scale, you would probably not notice them. In the small desert town of Anza, California, residents experienced small earthquakes almost every day and often several times in a row. There were 6,913 earthquakes between 2017 and 2018. But they could still live their everyday lives.
But if the earthquakes were higher on the Richter scale, you’d have to get used to constant noise pollution. This would affect your body’s stress response and quality of sleep. In the long term, this could lead to heart disease or even stroke.
Life would be challenging, but it wouldn’t stop. You’d have to find some way to get used to the quakes, just like many people in the Midwestern U.S. have adjusted their daily life to the threat of tornadoes.
The biggest challenge would be rethinking how we design our buildings. There are already many innovative techniques that could reinforce these structures. But you’d have to get even more creative.
One out-of-the-box building material that researchers could explore is spider silk. This material stiffens under pressure. And when even more stress is applied, it expands close to its breaking point and hardens again.
This is precisely how a spider’s web reacts to the impact of an insect. The damage from the collision is limited to the span between spokes of the web. The shock is significantly reduced, so the net remains intact.
- “Earthquake FAQ | U Of U Seismograph Stations”. 2021. quake.utah.edu.
- “What Is An Earthquake? | NASA Space Place – NASA Science For Kids”. 2021. spaceplace.nasa.gov.
- “What does an earthquake feel like?”. 2021. usgs.gov.
- “How Earthquake-Proof Buildings Are Designed | Bigrentz”. BigRentz, Inc. 2019. bigrentz.com.
- “Can a spider web hold clues for better buildings? Science takes a step.”. Spotts, Pete. 2012. The Christian Science Monitor.