Let's Look Inside the Earth

Type: Investigation

Theme: Nature

Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Learning Target: Students will analyze USGS seismology data in the classroom using spreadsheets and scatter plots to look for patterns and structure in the Earth’s crust.


 Image courtesy of geophysics.ou.eduThis project will be completed in groups of 2 or 3.

Step 1: Select a location near active fault zones.

Choose a north-south or east-west slice of earth with high seismicity. See reference map at right.

Step 2: Configure Coordinates and Download data.

Now that students have a general idea where earthquakes occur around the earth. Have teams of 2 select a north-south or east-west slice of earth with high seismicity. See reference map.

  1. Go to http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/search/ 
  2. Set minimum magnitude to 1.
  3. Set date and time spans (choose at least 5 years). 
  4. Select geographic location. Use a vertical or horizontal slice.
  5. Set Format to CSV (comma separated values).
  6. Click Search and Download the file. (Important: You may need to rename the file to “my-earthquakes.csv”).
  7. Get a screenshot/snip of our location.

Step 3: Build the data in a spreadsheet.

  1. Open the downloaded CSV file in Excel or another spreadsheet tool.
  2. In order for your graph to display the depth data properly, the depth value must be negative, or the plot will be upside down. Make a new depth column. Right-click on the E column to the right of the depth column. Select Insert column to the left. The new column will now be E. In the first row of that column enter the label “Depth.” In row 2 of the new depth column, enter this equation: =D2*-1 and press Enter.
  3. Click on the new cell. Double click on the black node to the bottom left of the highlighted cell, or drag the square node down to the bottom of the dataset, so the equation fills the entire column.

Step 4: Graph the data as a scatter plot.

  1. Select the columns of data you wish to graph. One column will be the new Depth column. If E is that column, click E. Then hold CTRL and select the B or C column. If you want to graph an east-west slice, then you'll choose the longitude column. If you want to graph a north-south slice, then you'll choose the latitude column.
  2. Visualize the data. In Excel, click Chart or Scatter on the Insert menu and customize as needed. The horizontal x-axis should be the latitude or longitude data.
  3. The vertical y-axis will be the negative depth data. Zero depth will be the surface (if your location is at sea level).

Step 5: Annotate your graph

Save your graph and annotate it using Snip & Sketch or another tool. Be sure to include East/West or North/South.


For this Investigation each student will submit a PowerPoint project which contains:

  1. Location information (city, state, country, island, or underwater location)
  2. Latitude and longitude center point.
  3. A photograph of your location at the surface.
  4. Written statement about the geologic history of your location (minimum two paragraphs).
  5. Map screenshot of your location. Include the boundary of your slice.
  6. An annotated scatterplot of the structure underneath the earth. Use lines, text and color or shading.
  7. Are there any obvious fault lines?
  8. How deep do you find earthquakes?
  9. An explanation to why you selected your location.
  10. Peer Review.


Exit Ticket
CCSS Math Practice
  • I can model with mathematics.
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
  • Systems and System Models