The outermost part of the Earth consists of a mosaic of plates, by way of a great puzzle, moving very slowly some from others. In this displacement occurs a shock and friction at its edges, breaking there where the deformation exceeds the strength of the rock. Due to this breakdown a disturbance (waves) that are generated which constitute the earthquake. Has been classically interpreted the origin of earthquakes as a result of the slow accumulation of efforts, which tend to move the surface of the Earth in opposite directions (Figure A), deforming rock until his resistance is exceeded, in which case it breaks and releases the energy accumulated in the form of waves (Figure B), and also moves one portion of it with respect to the otherforming a discontinuity between both blocks or failure (Figure C). This simple scheme, known as the elastic rebound theory, was developed from observations made after the earthquake that struck the city of San Francisco (USA) in 1906.
The deformation of the plates is usually the cause of most of the earthquakes that occur on Earth. However other phenomena can trigger earthquakes: volcanic eruptions or the collapse of underground caverns, slopes, etc. In all cases, the earthquakes are smaller.