Earthquake Hazards

FAQ

Why is the earthquake that was reported/recorded by network X, or that I felt, not on the map/list?

The maps and lists show events which have been located by the USGS and contributing agencies within the last 30 days. They should not be considered to be complete lists of all events in the US and adjacent areas and especially should not be considered to be complete lists of all events M4.5+ in the world. In most cases, we locate and report on...

Why do some earthquakes disappear from the map/list?

The USGS and networks contributing to the Advance National Seismic System (ANSS) take great effort to provide accurate and timely earthquake information. Occasionally our systems produce erroneous information that is released to the public via our web pages or Earthquake Notification System . These mistakes are generally promptly identified by...

What is UTC, and why don’t you report earthquakes in the local time where the earthquake occurred?

UTC stands for Coordinated Universal Time, and for this purpose is the same as GMT ( Greenwich Mean Time). Since the USGS and other seismic network agencies record earthquakes around the globe in all the various time zones, using a single standard time reference is best for record-keeping and exchange of data. Also, we tried converting Coordinated...

Why isn't the fault on which the earthquake occurred or the distance to the nearest fault provided?

Seismologists evaluate the hypocenter location and the focal mechanism of an earthquake to decide if the earthquake occurs on a named fault. Research shows that many earthquakes occur on small, un-named faults located near well-known faults. For example, most of the aftershocks of the 1989 M6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on small, subsidiary...

Can I get on a list to receive an email message when there is an earthquake? How do I sign up for earthquake notifications?  Are there any Feeds I can subscribe to?

Yes, please go to the USGS Earthquake Notification Services (ENS) to sign up for free emails or text messages to your phone. Use the default settings or customize ENS to fit your needs. Also check out the many different Earthquake Feeds .

When are tsunami information and links included on the Earthquake Event pages?

Tsunami information is added to individual USGS event pages for earthquakes under two conditions: If we get information (alerts) from any of NOAA's Tsunami Warning Centers, or For any earthquake of magnitude 5.0 or greater that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Caribbean Sea, or Hawaii For More Information, See NOAA's...

Why/When does the USGS update the magnitude of an earthquake?

The USGS often updates an earthquake's magnitude in the hours and sometimes days following the event. Updates occur as more data become available for analysis and more time-intensive analysis is performed. Additional updates are possible as part of the standard procedure of assembling a final earthquake catalog. There are physical and operational...

Why do so many earthquakes occur at a depth of 10km?

Ten kilometers is a "fixed depth". Sometimes data are too poor to compute a reliable depth for an earthquake. In such cases, the depth is assigned to be 10 km. Why that number? In many areas around the world, reliable depths tend to average 10 km or close to it. For example, if we made a histogram of the reliable depths in such an area, we'd...

How fast does the earthquake information get posted to the website, get sent out via the Earthquake Notification Service (ENS), ATOM feeds, etc?

USGS earthquake information mechanisms are all triggered by the same system, so they all receive the information at the same time. The time it takes for the system to receive the information primarily depends on the size and location of the earthquake: An earthquake in California is processed and posted to the system in 2.5 minutes (on average)...

Where can I see current or past seismograms?

The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has helicorders (seismogram displays) available for several areas in the United States and the World. Our research partner IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) has two applications, the Station Monitor and the Global Seismogram Viewer , for viewing seismograms. IRIS also supplies software...

Why do USGS earthquake magnitudes differ from those published by other agencies?

Magnitude estimates for a given earthquake can vary between reporting agencies due to differences in methodology, data availability, and inherent uncertainties in seismic data. Individual agencies use magnitude estimation procedures designed to meet the agency's specific needs and monitoring capabilities. Even for well-recorded events, differences...

How are earthquakes recorded? How are earthquakes measured? How is the magnitude of an earthquake determined?

Earthquakes are recorded by a seismographic network . Each seismic station in the network measures the movement of the ground at that site. The slip of one block of rock over another in an earthquake releases energy that makes the ground vibrate. That vibration pushes the adjoining piece of ground and causes it to vibrate, and thus the energy...

Moment magnitude, Richter scale - what are the different magnitude scales, and why are there so many?

Earthquake size, as measured by the Richter Scale is a well known, but not well understood, concept. The idea of a logarithmic earthquake magnitude scale was first developed by Charles Richter in the 1930's for measuring the size of earthquakes occurring in southern California using relatively high-frequency data from nearby seismograph stations...

What is the difference between magnitude and intensity? What is the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale?

Magnitude scales , like the moment magnitude, measure the size of the earthquake at its source. An earthquake has one magnitude. The magnitude do not depend on where the measurement is made. Often, several slightly different magnitudes are reported for an earthquake. This happens because the relation between the seismic measurements and the...

How do you determine the magnitude for an earthquake that occurred prior to the creation of the magnitude scale?

For earthquakes that occurred between about 1890 (when modern seismographs came into use) and 1935 when Charles Richter developed the magnitude scale, people went back to the old records and compared the seismograms from those days with similar records for later earthquakes. For earthquakes prior to about 1890, magnitudes have been estimated by...

How do seismologists locate an earthquake?

When an earthquake occurs, one of the first questions is "where was it?" The location may tell us what fault it was on and where damage (if any) most likely occurred. Unfortunately, Earth is not transparent and we can't just see or photograph the earthquake disturbance like meteorologists can photograph clouds. When an earthquake occurs, it...

What was the duration of the earthquake? Why don't you report the duration of each earthquake? How does the duration affect the magnitude?

The duration of an earthquake is related to its magnitude but not in a perfectly strict sense. There are two ways to think about the duration of an earthquake. The first is the length of time it takes for the fault to rupture and the second is the length of time shaking is felt at any given point (e.g. when someone says "I felt it shake for 10...

How can an earthquake have a negative magnitude?

Magnitude calculations are based on a logarithmic scale, so a ten-fold drop in amplitude decreases the magnitude by 1. If an amplitude of 20 millimetres as measured on a seismic signal corresponds to a magnitude 2 earthquake, then: 10 times less (2 millimetres) corresponds to a magnitude of 1; 100 times less (0.2 millimetres) corresponds to...

What does it mean that the earthquake occurred at a depth of 0 km?  How can an earthquake have a negative depth; that would mean it’s in the air.  What is the geoid, and what does it have to do with earthquake depth?

An earthquake cannot physically occur at a depth of 0 km or -1km (above the surface of the earth). In order for an earthquake to occur, two blocks of crust must slip past one another, and it is impossible for this to happen at or above the surface of the earth. So why do we report that the earthquake occurred at a depth of 0 km or event as a...

Seismometers, seismographs, seismograms - what's the difference? How do they work?

A seismometer is the internal part of the seismograph , which may be a pendulum or a mass mounted on a spring; however, it is often used synonymously with "seismograph". Seismographs are instruments used to record the motion of the ground during an earthquake. They are installed in the ground throughout the world and operated as part of a...