Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Mapping Quake Risk


Activity Source:

Esri. Adapted with permission.

Today, people are “mapping our world” with the aid of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology. Mapping can be done in the field or the lab—even from smartphones. You can make maps with real-time data about wildfires, tsunamis, and tornadoes. You can make maps with imagery collected with visible light, infrared, and radar data.

GIS helps people solve everyday problems in Earth science from coastal erosion on the local beach to global climate change. Why? Because Earth science happens everywhere, and analyzing data through maps empowers us to understand our world and make it a better place.

In this activity, you’ll use GIS to observe worldwide patterns of earthquakes and volcanoes and analyze the relationships of those patterns to tectonic plate boundaries. Then you’ll identify cities at risk.


  • Computer with Internet access


  1. Go online to You’ll see a map with three layers turned on: Earthquake Location, PDC Active Hazards, and Holocene Volcanoes. The check mark next to the layer name tells you the layer is turned on and visible on the map. You can use the three-button panel above the layer names to jump between map information, contents, and legend.

  2. Turn off the Holocene Volcanoes layer and PDC Active Hazards layer so that only Earthquake Locations are showing on the map. Do earthquakes occur in the places you expect?

  3. Turn on the volcanoes layer. What patterns do you see in the volcano locations on the map?

  4. In the Earthquakes layer, each point is symbolized on the map representing its magnitude on the Richter scale. Turn on the Top 20 Magnitude Earthquakes layer. How do the Top 20 Magnitude locations compare to the other Earthquakes layer? Identify three ways.

  5. Earth is always changing. The planet’s crust is composed of several tectonic plates that are always on the move. The effects of movement are most noticeable at the boundaries between the plates. Based on the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes, where do you think the plate boundaries are?

  6. Turn off the Volcanoes layer. Turn on the Earth’s Tectonic Plates layer. Compare the actual plate boundaries to the ones you hypothesized in the previous step’s question. Record all similarities and differences. Are there any areas where physical features, plate boundaries, and seismic and volcanic activities overlap?

  7. Turn on the Major Cities layer in the table of contents. Use the Zoom, Pan, and Identify tools to find cities that have an expected high risk or low risk for an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Name five high-risk cities and five low-risk cities. Remember to turn layers on and off and move them around as needed.

You or your teacher can explore many more topics including geology, climate, and population in “Mapping Our World” free, online at [coming soon].