Aftershock. Earthquakes that follow the largest shock of an earthquake sequence. They are smaller than the "mainshock" and can occur over a period of weeks, months, or years. In general, the larger the mainshock, the larger and more numerous the aftershocks and the longer they will continue.

Creep. Slow, more or less continuous movement occurring on some faults. Creep does not cause shaking.

Earthquake. Ground shaking caused by a sudden movement on a fault or by volcanic disturbance.

Epicenter. The point on the Earths surface above the point at depth in the Earths crust where an earthquake begins.

Fault. A fracture or crack along which two blocks of rock slide past one another. This movement may occur rapidly, in the form of an earthquake, or slowly, in the form of creep.

Foreshock. An earthquake that precedes the largest quake (mainshock) of an earthquake sequence. Foreshocks may occur seconds to weeks before the mainshock.

Intensity. A measure of ground shaking describing the local severity of an earthquake in terms of its effects on the Earths surface and on humans and their structures. The Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) scale, which uses Roman numerals, is one way scientists measure intensity.

Landslide. A mass movement of soil, mud, and (or) rock down a slope.

Liquefaction. The process that occurs when an earthquake shakes wet sandy soil until it behaves like a liquid, allowing sand to "boil up" to the surface, buildings to sink, or sloping ground to move.

Magnitude (M). A number that represents the size of an earthquake source, as determined from seismographic observations. The original earthquake magnitude scale was the Richter or local scale (ML), defined by Charles Richter in 1935, but it has limited range and applicability. Modern magnitude scales are based on the area of fault rupture times the amount of slip (seismic moment).The moment magnitude (MW) is the preferred magnitude scale, as it provides the most reliable estimate of the size of the largest quakes. For smaller quakes, ML and MW values are nearly the same. An increase of one unit of moment magnitude (for example, from 4.6 to 5.6) corresponds approximately to a 31.6-fold increase in energy released [by definition, a two-unit increase in magnitude for example, from 4.7 to 6.7represents an increase in energy released of 1,000 times (31.6_31.6)]. Quakes below magnitude 2.5 are not generally felt by humans.

Plate tectonics. The scientific theory that the Earths outer shell is composed of several large, thin, relatively strong "plates" that move relative to one another. Movements on the faults that define plate boundaries produce most earthquakes.

Retrofit. Strengthening an existing structure to improve its resistance to the effects of earthquakes.

Rupture zone. The area of the Earth through which fault movement occurred during an earthquake. For large quakes, the section of the fault that ruptured may be several hundred miles in length. Ruptures may or may not extend to the ground surface.

Seismic hazard. The potential for damaging effects caused by earthquakes. The level of hazard depends on the magnitude of likely quakes, the distance from the fault that could cause quakes, and the type of ground materials at a site.

Seismic risk. The chance of injury, damage, or loss resulting from seismic hazards. There is no risk, even in a region of high seismic hazard, if there are no people or property that could be injured or damaged by a quake.

Soft story. A building story that has significantly less stiffness than the story above. Some buildings with parking at ground level (and thus fewer walls or columns) or an otherwise open ground story have this condition. The term is sometimes also applied to a story that has less strength than the one above, a condition that is more precisely termed a "weak story."

Strike-slip fault. A generally vertical fault along which the two sides move horizontally past each other. The most famous example is Californias San Andreas Fault.

Subduction zone. A boundary along which one plate of the Earths outer shell descends (subducts) at an angle beneath another. A subduction zone is usually marked by a deep trench on the sea floor. An example is the Cascadia Subduction Zone offshore of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Most tsunamis are generated by subduction-zone earthquakes.

Tsunami. A sea wave of local or distant origin that results from large sea-floor displacements associated with powerful earthquakes, major submarine landslides, or exploding volcanic islands.