The size of earthquakes

Earthquake Information Bulletin (USGS)


  • The Publications Warehouse does not have links to digital versions of this publication at this time
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


How we should measure the size of an earthquake has been historically a very important, as well as a very difficult, seismological problem. For example, figure 1 shows the loss of life caused by earthquakes in recent times and clearly demonstrates that 1976 was the worst year for earthquake casualties in the 20th century. However, the damage caused by an earthquake is due not only to its physical size but also to other factors such as where and when it occurs; thus, figure 1 is not necessarily an accurate measure of the "size" of earthquakes in 1976. the point is that the physical process underlying an earthquake is highly complex; we therefore cannot express every detail of an earthquake by a simple straightforward parameter. Indeed, it would be very convenient if we could find a single number that represents the overall physical size of an earthquake. This was in fact the concept behind the Richter magnitude scale introduced in 1935. 

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The size of earthquakes
Series title Earthquake Information Bulletin (USGS)
Volume 12
Issue 1
Year Published 1980
Language English
Publisher U.S Geological Survey
Description 6 p.
First page 10
Last page 15
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N