Man-Made Earthquakes? Some Pop Culture Causes

Devastating Earthquake Visualized

Fracking! Long before it came into fashion as an epithet among the people of the Twelve Colonies in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica television series, it was short-hand for the process of fracturing underground shale rock to extract natural gas using high pressure streams of air or water. It has been in the news lately after

unusual earthquakes in Oklahoma were under the suspicion of being caused by a nearby energy company’s fracking operation.

Was there a connection? Like all issues that cross environmental and corporate lines, the debate rages in the halls of power and the halls of power brokers, but it is not a new one. The fracking-earthquake connection dates back to at least 2009, but for fans of pop culture the idea of an artificially created earthquake is a well-worn staple of genre entertainment.

Earthquakes are often used in fiction to turn the safe and familiar into the strange and dangerous. Especially since that literally world-shaking power is in the hands of pure chance. However, when that same power is at the hands of humans, the results can be unspeakably evil or transcendently heroic.

So, if you need an earthquake and you can't wait for those boring old tectonic plates to shift, how do you do it? 

 

Mutant Powers

Source: Avalanche, Rictor and others

In Marvel Comics, there are a several mutants with the power to generate seismic waves from their bodies that can simulate the effects of an earthquake: Avalanche, one of the “oldest” members of the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants who has flirted with both sides of the hero/villain spectrum and Rictor, the on again and off again member of Jamie Madrox's (Multipe Man) X-Factor detective agency.

How these and other mutants with similar powers accomplish the feat of generating earthquakes simply because of their atypical generic construction is unknown, like Storm's weather control powers and how Cyclops can shoot a beam of concussive energy from his eyes, but it has been demonstrated several times that their power is enough to topple buildings and upturn large patches of ground.  

 

Mad Science

Source: Nikola Tesla's electro-mechanical oscillator

To call Nikola Tesla a “mad scientist” is largely unfair, he is a man who over the past 20 years has earned a degree of respect from the genre community for a genius that was derided in the years leading up to and after his death, despite his participation (and victory) in one of the most impactful 'format wars' ever fought: his battle with Thomas Edison over the delivery of consumer electricity via his alternating current (AC) and Edison's direct current (DC).

Later in his life, Tesla began to dream even bigger thoughts than just powering the cities of the world, he began creating weapons. His death ray (outside of the Command and Conquer: Red Alert video games) never really materialized, but he reported great success in developing an earthquake machine: an electromechanical oscillator. This device used a steam powered piston to create a harmonic resonance with the object it was attached to with the goal of shaking it apart when the frequency was matched perfectly.

Though Tesla reported that the device almost shook his laboratory apart when he tested it, he never patented it, though using a conceptually similar device he did patent (US #514169) and a bit of speculation, the Mythbusters tried and failed to use it to destroy an 80-year-old steel bridge.  

 

Cosmic Event

Source: A Rogue Planet Passing Between the Moon and Earth

The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruin!
Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn...


A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.


He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

By a significant margin the most difficult way to cause tectonic upheaval in reality, cosmic events like asteroid impacts will most definitely cause the ground to move, mostly upwards into the air as particulates to block out the sun and kill perhaps every living thing.

Or there is the cosmic disaster that preceded the events of the Thundarr, the Barbarian cartoon by 2000 years. The gravitational force of the runaway planet not only 'cast in ruin' man's civilization, but shifted the face of the planet and even cracked the moon in half. If you a lucky in this new, savage world created for the series by comics legends Alex Toth and Jack Kirby, you can wander the wastes exploring ruins and battling evil wizards with a princess and a Wookie knock off. 

 

Nature Attunement

Source: Earthbending

In the world of Avatar (the animated series, not the one with the giant blue cat-people) each of the Four Nations are aligned with one of the classical elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. A percentage of each nation’s populace, based on their level of harmony with nature, could be trained to manipulate their element as a martial art.

The ground-manipulators of the Earth Kingdom, known as Earthbenders, can through training and a solid physical connection to the ground can raise and lower wide patches of the ground around them, pull stones from underneath them for use as projectiles and can quickly construct crude shelters and bridges over open spans.

Used properly, or more likely improperly, Earthbending abilities can easily simulate the effects of a natural earthquake. In the series the opening and closing of fissures, the shifting of the ground beneath one’s feet and the toppling of structures are all within the powers of an Earthbender. 

 

High Explosives

Source: High Explosives

Say you want to corner the market on microchip manufacture, what do you do? Come up with a snappy catch phrase? Win a price war? Create a quality product people actually like and want to buy? Nope, you conspire to murder your competition en masse via a flood caused by an artificially created double earthquake.

If that sounds like the mad plan of a Bond villain, you’d be right. Max Zorin, portrayed by the inimitable Christopher Walken in the lesser James Bond film A View to a Kill, is the product of Nazi ‘science’ and KGB training. He conceived and almost pulled off his plan to flood Silicon Valley by triggering two fault lines at the same time. His method was to set off a massive pile of explosives at the point where the lines met.

While light and heat are the most cinematic effects of explosions, most of the damage they cause is from the waves of concussive force emanated from the rapid release of energy. Terrain deformation and tremors are common earthquake-like effect of underground explosions, including underground nuclear testing which was known to cause the formation of craters on the surface from over 1,000 feet below and create ‘aftershocks’ of the earth settling back in over new holes blown in the ground. 

 

Punch the Ground Really, Really Hard

Source: Brute Force

Surrounded by bad guys and need a little space to maneuver? Why not punch the ground really, really hard to create a seismic shockwave that’ll knock all enemies within its area of effect off their feet? A staple of the action genre, from Batman’s shock wave attack in the recent Batman: Arkham City to the Decepticon Rumble’s pile-driver arms, the ability to move the earth with the strength in your arms comes in handy for both crowd control and messing with those do-gooder Autobots.

From as far back as classical depictions of Atlas and Hercules up to and including The Incredible Hulk, tearing up the ground is excellent shorthand for displaying the sheer strength of a fictional character. In gaming, the waves of seismic energy released from ground pounds are excellent ways for players to kick off combos and in the hands of bosses, a way to test a gamer’s agility (and spatial awareness).

Realistically, apart from feeling the heavy footfalls of a charging elephant as it approaches you, the ability of any living this to cause any kind of seismic distress with just their brute strength is impossible. More likely than not, the unforgiving nature of the solid parts of the Earth are going to cause more damage to your hand than you would ever do to the knife and gun wielding foes around you.

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