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 porcelain 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 neither 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 in materials to build.
We have a 3-minute trailer and an 11-minute video that shows QuakeCaster in action and lets you see how you could use it as a teaching tool (click on the panel at right).
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
How to build and teach with QuakeCaster, an earthquake demonstration and exploration tool
U.S. Geological Survey
Earthquake Science Center, Menlo Park Science Center