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Open-File Report 2011–1158

How to Build and Teach with QuakeCaster—An Earthquake Demonstration and Exploration Tool

By Kelsey Linton and Ross S. Stein

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (2.1 MB)Abstract

QuakeCaster is an interactive, hands-on teaching model that simulates earthquakes and their interactions along a plate-boundary fault. QuakeCaster contains the minimum number of physical processes needed to demonstrate most observable earthquake features. A winch to steadily reel in a line simulates the steady plate tectonic motions far from the plate boundaries. A granite slider in frictional contact with a nonskid rock-like surface simulates a fault at a plate boundary. A rubber band connecting the line to the slider simulates the elastic character of the Earth’s crust. By stacking and unstacking sliders and cranking in the winch, one can see the results of changing the shear stress and the clamping stress on a fault. By placing sliders in series with rubber bands between them, one can simulate the interaction of earthquakes along a fault, such as cascading or toggling shocks. By inserting a load scale into the line, one can measure the stress acting on the fault throughout the earthquake cycle. As observed for real earthquakes, QuakeCaster events are not periodic, time-predictable, or slip-predictable. QuakeCaster produces rare but unreliable “foreshocks.” When fault gouge builds up, the friction goes to zero and fault creep is seen without large quakes. QuakeCaster events produce very small amounts of fault gouge that strongly alter its behavior, resulting in smaller, more frequent shocks as the gouge accumulates. QuakeCaster is designed so that students or audience members can operate it and record its output. With a stopwatch and ruler one can measure and plot the timing, slip distance, and force results of simulated earthquakes. People of all ages can use the QuakeCaster model to explore hypotheses about earthquake occurrence. QuakeCaster takes several days and about $500.00 in materials to build.

Last modified March 3, 2015
First posted September 29, 2011

  • Videos; both full (~11 minutes) and trailer (~1 minutes) each in two sizes and two formats
  • Audio; both full and trailer for the visually impaired (22 MB total)
  • Transcript; both full and trailer for the hearing impaired (100 kB total)

This publication is online only

For additional information, contact:
Contact Information, Earthquake Science Center, Menlo Park Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 977
Menlo Park, California 94025

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Suggested citation:

Linton, K., and Stein, R.S., 2015, How to build and teach with QuakeCaster—An earthquake demonstration and exploration tool (ver. 1.1, March 2015): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1158, 38 p. and videos,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)



QuakeCaster Design and Purpose

Demonstrating Earthquake Principles and Testing Hypotheses with QuakeCaster

Coulomb Failure Criteria, Stress Triggering of Earthquakes, and Earthquake Interaction

Examples of QuakeCaster Experiments

QuakeCaster Relates to the Parkfield Section of the San Andreas Fault

Measuring the Fault Friction in QuakeCaster

Measuring the Elasticity of Earth’s Crust in QuakeCaster .

Audience Participation in QuakeCaster Experiments





Appendixes (2)

Figures (10)

Supplementary Videos (2)

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