moving earth

a short story about plate tectonics for middle school students

Fourteen-year-old Ren was fascinated by earthquakes. She loved studying seismic activity and tectonic plates with her mom, a geology professor at the university.  One day, Ren asked her mom, "How do earthquakes relate to volcanoes and the Ring of Fire?"

Her mom explained, "The Ring of Fire is a chain of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity, or earthquakes, around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. It's located along the boundaries of several tectonic plates."

She showed Ren a map on her computer. Ren saw the chain of earthquakes and volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean, passing through the west coasts of North and South America, Alaska, and eastern Asia. 

"Wow, so all that seismic and volcanic activity happens around the Pacific tectonic plates?" asked Ren. "That's right," said her mom. "It's caused by subduction zones, where one tectonic plate slides beneath another. The friction leads to large earthquakes and volcanic eruptions." Ren pointed on the map to the west coast of South America. "I see a lot of high magnitude earthquakes here."

"Yes, the boundary between the Nazca and South American plates runs right offshore there, causing huge megathrust earthquakes and tsunamis."

Over the next few weeks, Ren studied the Ring of Fire and plate tectonics intently. She learned how the Pacific Plate slides underneath chains of islands like Japan and the Philippines, generating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions there too. 

One day, Ren's mom surprised her with exciting news. "I've been invited to study the Andean subduction zone in Peru and collect data on recent seismic activity. Would you like to come along on the research expedition?"

"Would I ever!" cried Ren. This was a dream come true.

The next week, Ren was riding in a Jeep through the Andes Mountains to reach their research camp. Her mom drove while Ren gazed in awe at the towering volcanoes rising around them.

At camp, Ren got to visit sites damaged by the powerful earthquakes that frequently rock the area. She also hiked to crater rims to peer inside simmering volcanic calderas. 

One day, Ren's mom took her to see a city near the coast called Trujillo. "This area has experienced a lot of seismic hazards," she explained. "The subduction zone offshore produces huge earthquakes that spawn destructive tsunamis."

Ren saw that much of Trujillo was being rebuilt after recent quakes. "It must be scary living so close to the plate boundary," she said.  Her mom replied, "Yes, but by studying seismic activity patterns and making preparations, people can reduce risks."

During their stay, Ren helped collect geological data. She also got to visit villages and interview locals about their earthquake experiences. She was gaining first-hand knowledge of the Ring of Fire. The expedition exceeded Ren's dreams. She couldn't believe she got to explore part of the famous Ring of Fire, studying earthquakes, volcanoes and tectonic plate motions. 

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Tags: geocomic geography earth tectonic seismic earth quake earthquake volcano FK8