How to build and teach with QuakeCaster: an earthquake demonstration and exploration tool

Open-File Report 2011-1158

DOI: 10.3133/ofr20111158



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.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
How to build and teach with QuakeCaster: an earthquake demonstration and exploration tool
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0: September 29, 2011; Version 1.1: March 3, 2015
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Menlo Park Science Center, Earthquake Science Center
Report: iv, 38 p.; Videos; Audio; Transcript
Number of Pages:
United States
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files(Y/N):