Here are some of the headline-grabbing natural disasters that occurred this year.
Earthquakes are the result of plate tectonics, or shifting plates in the crust of Earth, and quakes occur when the frictional stress of gliding plate boundaries builds and causes failure at a fault line. In an earthquake, elastic strain energy is released and waves radiate, shaking the ground. Scientists can predict where major temblors might occur in a general sense, but research does not yet allow forecasts for specific locations or accurate predictions of timing. Major earthquakes, some generating tsunamis, have leveled entire cities and affected whole countries. Relatively minor earthquakes can also be induced, or caused by human activity, including extraction of minerals from Earth and the collapse of large buildings.
Earthquake cloaks, made up of thousands of precisely drilled boreholes, could potentially deflect seismic waves from expensive infrastructure.
The capital of New Zealand is primed for a major earthquake, thanks to the massive restructuring of stress on faults beneath the country.
In 2015, due to underground pressure buildup from injections, earthquake activity in parts of Oklahoma increased 900-fold compared to past levels.
Over the course of its history, Japan has seen its share of shaking, but what makes this part of the world so susceptible to big earthquakes?
A magnitude-6.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima, Japan, today (Nov. 21), triggering a tsunami warning.
The quake's epicenter is northeast of Christchurch, but was felt as far as New Zealand's capital Wellington, located 120 miles (200km) away on the North Island.
Though no injuries have been reported, the Oklahoma quake was felt as far away as Missouri and Kansas.
What differentiates earthquakes from aftershocks, and how do geologists interpret these events to understand what's happening in quake-prone regions?
Two strong earthquakes shook the ground near the Italian town of Norcia. The region also experienced a magnitude-6.2 temblor in August.
Decades of failed attempts to predict earthquakes yield the question: Do quakes give off any warning signs at all?
The rumblings deep underground found seismic activity at deeper-than-expected levels, potentially signaling new earthquake extremes.
Earthquake swarms can raise the risk of a major quake by increasing the overall earthquake frequency, putting pressure on a main fault and setting off larger aftershocks.
The Sept. 3 quake that rattled Pawnee, Oklahoma, has been upgraded to a 5.8 magnitude, making it the state's largest temblor on record. And it was most likely induced by human activity.
A complex system of faults underlying Italy make destructive quakes, like the recent Norcia earthquake, surprisingly common.