A remarkable animation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows every recorded earthquake that took place between January 1, 2001, and December 31, 2015. It’s like watching the world fall apart in real-time.
Some notable and devastating earthquakes are of course included in this animation, an interactive version of which can be found by clicking here.
The tsunami-inducing Tohoku earthquake that killed over 18,000 people in March 2011 in Japan can be seen, as can the December 2004 Sumatran quake and tsunami that killed nearly quarter of a million.
Over the last 15 years, there have been 20 earthquakes registering as 8.0M or larger. The two aforementioned earthquakes were the most powerful during this period, both registering as 9.1M events.
Not only were these tremors incredibly destructive, but they were once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. In fact, there have only been around seven quakes that registered as a 9.0M or above since records began.
The most powerful earthquake in recorded history, a 9.5M, took place in Chile back in May 1960. The Tohoku quake ranks as the fourth-most powerful, and the Sumatran event ranks as the third.
The moment magnitude scale – the successor to the widely used Richter scale – is logarithmic, which means that a 7.0M quake is 32 times less energetic than a 8.0M quake. That means that a 9.0M quake is roughly 35.2 trillion times more energetic than a 1.0M quake.
A model animation of the tsunami generated by the record-breaking 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan. PTWC via YouTube
Generally speaking, the more powerful an earthquake, the less frequently it occurs, as it takes longer for stress to accumulate.
Almost all take place along tectonic boundaries, but there are exceptions to this. Fracking, parts of the upper mantle peeling off, and the reactivation of ancient tectonic “scars” can induce earthquakes far from major fault lines.
As for conventional earthquakes, you can find them in areas of compression (Himalayas), sideways movement (San Andreas Fault, California), and even extension (Apennines, Italy). Although the slow movement of tectonic plates helps build up stress, the Moon’s gravitational pull is also known to cause a fair amount of quakes every year.
In sum, then, our planet is alive and kicking, and it’s beautiful visualizations like this that remind us of that.