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Why are we having so many earthquakes? Has naturally occurring earthquake activity been increasing? Does this mean a big one is going to hit? OR We haven't had any earthquakes in a long time; does this mean that the pressure is building up for a big one?

A temporary increase or decrease in seismicity is part of the normal fluctuation of earthquake rates. Neither an increase nor decrease worldwide is a positive indication that a large earthquake is imminent.

The ComCat earthquake catalog contains an increasing number of earthquakes in recent years--not because there are more earthquakes, but because there are more seismic instruments and they are able to record more earthquakes.

The National Earthquake Information Center now locates about 20,000 earthquakes around the globe each year, or approximately 55 per day. As a result of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about earthquakes more quickly than ever before.

According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 16 major earthquakes in any given year. That includes 15 earthquakes in the magnitude 7 range and one earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater. In the past 40-50 years, our records show that we have exceeded the long-term average number of major earthquakes about a dozen times.

The year with the largest total was 2010, with 23 major earthquakes (greater than or equal to magnitude 7.0). In other years the total was well below the annual long-term average of 16 major earthquakes. 1989 only had 6 major earthquakes and 1988 only had 7.

Learn more: Earthquake Lists, Maps and Statistics

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