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Watch Costa Rica Quake Vibrations Hit US

The Costa Rica earthquake, visualized.
A screen capture of an animation that shows waves from the Costa Rican earthquake rattling the earth beneath the US. Blue means downward ground motion while red represents upward ground motion with the darker colors indicating larger amplitude. (Image credit: IRIS)

A new animation shows the shockwave from the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Costa Rica this morning (Sept. 5) arriving and reverberating through the ground beneath the United States.

The visualization was made by scientists at Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and shows the Earth slowly moving up and down. Red spots show seismometers moving upward; the darker the hue, the higher they are moving up. The opposite goes for blue.

The visualization shows how earthquakes create waves of motion through the Earth's crust, just as a pebble tossed into a pond creates a ripple. "But in this case, the pond is North America," said John Taber, head of outreach for IRIS.

People can't feel the quake this far away from Costa Rica in North America because the ground is only moving a fraction of an inch, and the wave is traveling relatively slowly, Taber told OurAmazingPlanet.

There are 400 seismometers in the array and they are mostly clustered in the Mississippi River valley but will eventually be moved around the entire country to provide scientists with a "CAT scan of the Earth," Taber said.

Seismic waves travel at different speeds through different rock types. "By measuring them, we can learn more about the structures beneath the ground," Taber said.

Data collected by these instruments helps to paint a clearer picture of the rift beneath the Mississippi River Valley in what's known as the New Madrid fault system. This rift was responsible for the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes, and may cause temblors in the future.

The Costa Rica quake originated 87 miles (140 kilometers) west of the capital San Jose, and was centered 25 miles (40 km) below the Earth's surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.