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The Lesser Known Effects of Earthquakes on the Environment

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When you think of an earthquake, there are probably very specific images that flash through your mind. Cities and townships littered with debris while unfortunate victims are pulled from the wreckage, all filtered through a news camera. Maybe landslides have occurred, and floodwater is funneling through the countryside.

These are all very real and devastating after-effects of an earthquake. But there are other, lesser-known consequences that such a natural disaster can have on the environment.

Soil Liquefaction

We know that an earthquake can cause considerable destruction of man-made structures. But often they are not aware of the reason why this occurs. Liquefaction is the process by which ground vibrations raise water pressure in soil and causes the particles to collapse. This results in the soil temporarily taking on the characteristics of a viscous liquid.

This soil can no longer support the buildings constructed upon it. It causes them to pitch and collapse. This is one of the main reasons you will see so many collapsed buildings and landslides in post-earthquake footage.


The ground-shaking caused by an earthquake (and the resulting liquefaction) can lead to severe damage of gas mains and electric lines/power lines. Because of this fires are a widespread result of earthquake damage.

It often leads to more loss of life than any of the other consequences. A known example of this is the historic 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, where resulting fires caused more havoc than the quake itself.


An especially little known effect of earthquakes is how they coincide with the existence of ‘e-waste.’ E-waste is the trash that is made by abandoned or obsolete electronics; when they are disposed of without proper recycling methods. The toxic materials contained in our devices, such as zinc, lead, chromium et al., inevitably end up in landfills.

The resulting slew of pollutants is released into the earth, atmosphere, and waterways. And as we know, one of the major features of earthquakes is their ability to radically shake and rupture the ground. This causes splits and movements in places like landfills. It quickens the spread of e-waste into the water and other areas of land.

Currently, only 9% of all disposed-of electronics are properly recycled. But there are certified electronics recycling and disposal methods that can help to alleviate what is now officially considered an environmental disaster.

Positive Effects of Earthquake

This may come as a surprise in the face of all these overwhelmingly negative factors. But there certainly are positive effects of earthquakes that we forget about. The movement of tectonic plates causes earthquakes. This is where sections of the earth’s outer layer move against each other, causing massive pressure over time that needs to be released.

This is what we know as an earthquake, and the movement and readjustment of these plates are simply natural processes in the earth’s cycle. Earthquakes are the necessary result of our planet trying to maintain its equilibrium.

These massive movements that occur in the sea also cycle organisms from the seabed to the land. These organisms hold essential nutrients that would otherwise have not reached the continent.

Studies have also found that the impact earthquakes have on beaches and sand walls not only rupture ground surfaces but have also resulted in new plant life where previously no plants could grow.


At the end of the day, it’s easy to forget how intrinsically linked all aspects of the environment are. One cataclysmic event, like an earthquake, can have a resounding impact on the world. And this can be in ways that are not immediately obvious.

Of course, if an earthquake occurs, the most important thing is to know how to react and how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. But it is still important that everyone is aware of the impact of such natural disasters. In this way, we can be more proactive as citizens in a post-disaster situation, and help to avoid specific long-term effects.

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