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In bygone superstitious times lightning and thunder were regarded as supernatural visitations. But as these phenomena became better understood, and men learned how to avoid their destructive power, the superstition was gradually dispelled. Thus it is with Earthquakes: the more clearly they are understood, the more confident in the universality of law will man become, and the more will his mental condition be advanced.

In his ‘History of Civilisation in England,’ Buckle has laid considerable stress upon the manner in which earthquakes, volcanoes, and other of the more terrible forms in which the workings of nature reveal themselves to us, have exerted an influence upon the imagination and understanding; and just as a sudden fright may affect the nerves of a child for the remainder of its life, we have in the annals of seismology records which indicate that earthquakes have not been without a serious influence upon the mental condition of whole communities.

To a geologist there are perhaps no phenomena in nature more interesting than earthquakes, the study of which is called Seismology. Coming, as shocks often will, from a region of volcanoes, the study of these disturbances may enable us to understand something about the nature and working of a volcano. As an earthquake wave travels along from strata to strata, if we study its reflections and changing velocity in transit, we may often be led to the discovery of certain rocky structures buried deep beneath our view, about which, without the help of such waves, it would be hopeless ever to attain any knowledge.

By studying the propagation of earthquake waves the physicist is enabled to confirm his speculations respecting the transmission of disturbances in elastic media. For the physicist earthquakes are gigantic experiments which tell him the elastic moduli of rocks as they exist in nature, and when properly interpreted may lead him to the proper comprehension of many ill-understood phenomena. It is not impossible that seismological investigation may teach us something about the earth’s magnetism, and the connection between earthquakes and the ‘earth currents’ which appear in our telegraph wires. These and numerous other kindred problems fall within the domain of the physicist.

It is of interest to the meteorologist to know the connections which probably exist between earthquakes and the fluctuations of the barometer, the changes of the thermometer, the quantity of rainfall, and like phenomena to which he devotes his attention.

Next we may turn to the more practical aims of seismology and ask ourselves what are the effects of earthquakes upon buildings, and how, in earthquake-shaken countries, the buildings are to be made to withstand them. Here we are face to face with problems which demand the attention of engineers and builders. To attain what we desire, observation, common sense, and subtle reasoning must be brought to bear upon this subject.

In the investigation of the principle on which earthquake instruments make their records, in the analysis of the results they give, in problems connected with astronomy, with physics, and with construction, seismology offers to the mathematician new fields for investigation.

A study of the effects which earthquakes produce on the lower animals will not fail to interest the student of natural history.

A study like seismology, which leads us to a more complete knowledge of earth-heat and its workings, is to be regarded as one of the corner-stones of geology. The science of seismology invites the co-operation of workers and thinkers in almost every department of natural science.

We have already referred to the influence exerted by earthquakes over the human mind. How to predict earthquakes, and how to escape from their dangers, are problems which, if they can be solved, are of extreme interest to the world at large.

In addition to the sudden and violent movements which we call earthquakes, the seismologist has to investigate the smaller motions which we call earth tremors. From observations which have been made of late years, it would appear that the ground on which we dwell is incessantly in a state of tremulous motion.

Science & Nature
26 July
Library of Alexandria

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