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How Much Energy Could We Really Harvest from an Earthquake?

A lot, it turns out. But not for very long.

Earthquakes are among the most destructive phenomena human civilization contends with, obviously. For just a few seconds at a time, we're forced to contend with the stirring of the very guts of our planet, with often grim results. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake, for example, killed nearly 16,000 people and displaced a quarter-million while moving the entire island of Japan nearly eight feet east. That's power.

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Is it power that we can use? In a recent episode of 100 Second Science, Elliott Spender, a research assistant at the University of Leicester, does the math.