Earthquakes that Changed Landforms

Updated April 17, 2017

There are two primary causes of earthquakes: volcanic eruptions and tectonic plate activity at tectonic plate margins and faults. Notable domestic landforms that were affected by earthquakes include the Grant Teton Range in Wyoming, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Death Valley. Earthquakes can do more than just alter landforms on the Earth's crust, however. According to the Nelson Daily News, massive earthquakes such as the March 11, 2011, earthquake in Japan can actually shift the mass of the Earth and affect its rotation.

The Grand Tetons

According to the Greater Yellowstone Resource Guide, earthquakes built the Grand Teton mountain range in Wyoming about 10 million years ago. The Teton Fault is located on the eastern front of the Teton Mountain Range. The western side of the fault was pushed up by this tremendous pressure to form the Teton Range, and the eastern side of the fault drops down to form the Jackson Hole Valley.

Death Valley and the Sierra Nevadas

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, during the late Paleozoic and Mesozoic era, the Death Valley region, previously underwater, was a changing landscape of erupting volcanoes and uplifting new mountains. These changes were caused by a tectonic collision to the west. Resulting volcanic action occurred just west of Death Valley. The volcanoes eventually cooled and solidified, forming the granite rock now exposed in the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges.

Sagami, Japan

The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) lists the 1923 earthquake at Tokyo-Yokohama as one of Japan's worst natural disasters in history. The PDC reports that the ground shook for five minutes as the Sagami Bay Fault ruptured and pressure along the fault line was released. This caused "submarine slides" of the Earth's crust under Sagami Bay, which resulted in a water-depth change of more than 820 feet.

Tangshen, China

According to the PDC, the 1976 earthquake in Tangshen, China, probably caused the highest death toll of the past 400 years, and the second highest number of deaths in recorded history. Damage was especially bad in the Tangshen area. The earthquake resulted in extensive changes of landforms, including sagging and severe fissuring of the ground surface. The quake also caused new mud volcanoes to appear where none had previously been. Water and sand gushed up from the ground and spread over large areas of farmland.

The Great Lisbon Earthquake, 1755

The University of California at Berkeley says that the 1755 Lisbon earthquake's impact was both profound and long-lasting. The Nov. 1 earthquake was centred in the Atlantic Ocean. The worst damage occurred in the southwest region of Portugal. Moderate damage was done in Algiers and in southwest Spain. A very strong tsunami caused by the earthquake caused major destruction along the coasts of Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Many of the largest Portuguese mountains were shaken and split open, according to William Thomas Brande and Joseph Cauvin, scientists who lived at the time.

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About the Author

Melissa Bajorek began writing professionally in 2001. Her work has appeared online, in daily newspapers and on websites owned by Gatehouse Media, in monthly periodicals and for local and regional radio. She writes about a variety of topics, from new technology to animal husbandry. Bajorek has an Associate of Arts in business management from the University of Phoenix and holds certifications in marketing and advertising.