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Earthquakes are caused by tectonic movement in the Earth's crust. The main cause is when tectonic plates slide over each other causing the earth to shake earthquake is really just the sudden release of stored energy inside the Earth's crust causing waves of energy to be released. Tectonic plates are underneath the ocean and the earths land masses. The plates usually move at about the same speed as your fingernails grow. Earthquakes usually occur where two plates running into each other or sliding past each other.