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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/378

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362
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

MODERN STUDIES OF EARTHQUAKES.
By GEORG GERALAND.

THE investigation of earthquakes, seismology, has become in the present day an independent subject of scientific interest. In lands where earthquakes are frequent, as in Italy and Japan, seismic observations have been officially systematized over the whole country, with central and branch stations at which the work is never still. A net of seismic observations of all nations is being more and more closely woven over the whole earth, and there are yearly and monthly collations of observations of even the slightest shocks. Seismic literature is, therefore, nearly inexhaustible, and theory and praxis are in constant vogue; in short, seismics has grown to be a separate branch of science, and to demand independent treatment, calling for the energy and labor of many students. What gives it so great importance? What is the condition of our present knowledge and its history? What will be reached in the future through the competition of the nations? These questions possess a high scientific as well as culture-historical interest. We here attempt to answer them.

The first really scientific description of an earthquake—that of Lisbon—with its far-reaching accompanying phenomena, was the work of the greatest contemporary thinker, Kant, and it is not too much to say that his paper opened a new epoch in the knowledge of earthquakes. That terrible event and the extreme terror which it caused everywhere were followed in 1783 by the likewise extremely destructive earthquake of Calabria. The attention of the people was thus directed to this mysterious mighty activity of the earth, and was kept especially lively in Italy, the country of Europe most subject to earthquakes. The newly rising science of geology therefore found in the last third of the last century in these phenomena a problem of prominent importance. Geologists were the first to apply themselves to seismic studies, as the most widely current explanation of the phenomena is still a geological one. The scientific interest of the question prevailed over the practical. More attentive observation was given to earthquakes, the accounts of them scattered through the ancient chronicles were collated, and the already very numerous seismic notes of great earthquake manifestations—such as those by Hoff, Perry, Mallet, Volger, Fuchs, etc.—constituted a very important factor in the study. One of the earliest results of the inquiry was to show that directly perceptible earthquakes are not perceptible everywhere; that they are most common on the great upfoldings of the earth's crust on the mountain chains, such as the Andes, Alps, and Himalayas; and that, further, they are connected with the shores