What Is the Elastic Rebound Theory?

Elastic rebound theory refers to Henry Fielding Reid's observation of the release of stored energy, or elastic rebound, within a section of a tectonic fault line. The United States Geological Survey utilizes the example of a rubber band stretched to its breaking point to represent this theory.

Professor Henry Fielding Reid originally founded the elastic rebound theory in 1906. Reid proposed this theory based on gradual distortions of Earth's crust after various earthquakes. He realized that these gradual distortions were the quick release of strain on the fault lines that built up over time.

Simply put, as Earth's tectonic plates move, the crust above distorts. Once the pressure of the tectonic plates exceeds the force holding the crust together, elastic rebound occurs. Objects that are more brittle are more likely to demonstrate elastic rebound, states the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

After Reid's discovery, scientists have been monitoring the occurrence of elastic rebound along the fault lines. Elastic rebound is more visible on land with objects that cross the fault lines in a straight line, such as orchards, fences and streets. Although these objects make distortion more visible, it is still not commonly seen without instrumentation, because the size of the fault lines causes distortion to occur over many miles.