26 June 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Defining the Richter Scale

Whenever a major earthquake is in the news, you’ll probably hear about its Richter scale rating. We review the Richter scale, adapted from HowStuffWorks.com:

Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology developed the Richter scale in 1935. The Richter scale is used to rate the magnitude of an earthquake, amounting to the level energy released. This is formally calculated using a seismograph.

The Richter scale is logarithmic, meaning that whole-number jumps indicate a tenfold increase. For example, a level 6 earthquake is 10 times greater than in a level 5 earthquake, and the amplitude increases 100 times between a level 7 earthquake and a level 9 earthquake.

It is important to note that a majority of earthquakes have been registered at less than 3 on the Richter scale. Humans don’t typically feel these tremors, called microquakes. Only a tiny portion – 15 or so of the 1.4 million quakes that register above 2.0 – register at 7 or above, which the threshold for a quake being considered major.

The biggest quake in recorded history was the 9.5 quake that struck Chile in 1960. It killed nearly 1,900 people and caused about $4 billion in damage in 2010 dollars. Generally, you won’t see much damage from earthquakes that register below 4 on the Richter scale.

Scientists can predict where major earthquakes are likely to occur based on the movement of the plates in the Earth and the location of fault zones but it’s not as easy for families across America. In the mindset of disaster preparedness, we urge you to take heed some of our early warning signs of severe weather and educate yourself on what to do during an earthquake.

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