Powerful lessons from the Earth’s core

Tammy Bravo

India has a long history of devastating earthquakes. They occur in many areas of the country, a consequence of the 50-million-year-old collision of the Indian tectonic plate with Asia. The collision is ongoing as the Indian plate moves northward, building the Himalayan range, forming the Tibetan plateau, and forcing pieces of China and Southeast Asia eastward. As a result, it is likely that many students in India have a strong awareness of earthquakes. As a powerful and uncontrollable force, earthquakes can capture students’ attention and maintain their engagement in learning more about their role in the Earth System.

For example, after a large newsworthy earthquake students may ponder the cause of the earthquake and its human impact, question the rate of earthquake occurrence, or even wonder about how these events fit within a larger geologic or societal context. Exploring earthquakes with students gives them an opportunity to relate to their environment as well as connect to the world around them. A single earthquake has the power to provide strands of classroom content ranging from earth science to humanities to geography to physics with real world, place-based examples to enhance and reinforce the curriculum.

Current technology makes access to seismic data unprecedented from both an educational and scientific perspective. This means that educators can incorporate seismic data into classroom investigations like never before. Building on content students have been taught, working with real data provides students with practice thinking critically and analytically. The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), a seismological research facility based within the United States, supports a number of ways for teachers and their students to interact with earthquake data. These interactions occur across a spectrum of technological requirements and time scales:10 minutes following a newsworthy earthquake, labs lasting several class periods, to year-long monitoring of global seismicity.

The author is a seismology outreach specialist at the IRIS Consortium in Washington, DC. She can be reached at tkb@iris.edu.

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