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Wed, Oct 22, 2014

Studying Earthquakes

Studying earthquakes allows us to understand the past, present and future seismic activity of our country.

What is Seismology?

Seismology is the scientific study of earthquakes and the propagation of elastic waves through the Earth, including studies of the effect of earthquakes, and other sources of seismic activity, both natural and human-induced. Seismologists are Earth scientists who study these phenomena to learn more about the interior of our planet.

Why should we study earthquakes?

Mining is very important for our economy.  People go several kilometers under the surface to dig out gold, platinum and other precious metals and coal.  In order to get the minerals and coal out of the ground, they have to set off explosives.  These explosions can trigger rock falls and earthquakes in mines, which are very dangerous and deadly for miners.  Understanding where, when and how earthquakes occur in the mining environment helps make mining safer.

We also monitor and study earthquakes triggered by the impounding of dams.  Dam wall failure can result in down stream flooding.  Understanding the seismicity associated with dams helps engineers to build stronger, safer dam walls.

Natural seismicity has also been recorded in South Africa.  The largest recorded event, of magnitude 6.3, occurred on 29 September 1969 in the Tulbagh area of the Western Cape.   The event resulted in the deaths of 12 people and caused damage to property worth millions of Rands.

Where do seismologists work?

Seismologists contribute much in making structures such as buildings, dams, roads, bridges and power plants safe.  Who employs them?  Lots of people!

  • Government departments
  • universities and colleges
  • research institutes
  • environmental and engineering consulting firms
  • mineral, oil and gas exploration companies
  • oil and gas extractors and mining companies
  • independent data processing companies
  • some seismologists act as consultants for anyone who requires their services

How do I become a seismologist?

Seismologists are scientists so you need to take maths and science in high school.  Being able to use a computer is also very important.  At university, subjects such as physics, chemistry, geology, maths and computer science will give you a good background for seismology.