It’s been called the century of disasters and the decade of disasters and 2011 was the year of disasters. Natural disasters seem to be becoming more common. Wednesday’s two earthquakes in Indonesia were followed by two temblors in Mexico.
But while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called last year’s weather the most extreme on record, are there really more earthquakes?
It may look that way, but probably not.
Take a look at this United States Geological Survey table on the frequency of earthquakes each year:
Magnitude Average Annually
8 and higher 1
7- 7.9 15
6- 6.9 134
5- 5.9 1319
4- 4.9 13,000 (estimated)
3- 3.9 130,000 (estimated)
2- 2.9 1,300,000 (estimated)
If we compare the USGS averages to 2011, the results paint a scary picture.
In that year, one earthquake struck at a magnitude of 8 or higher (Japan’s tremendously destructive quake and tsunami), 19 earthquakes struck at magnitudes between 7 and 7.9 (a number higher than average), 185 earthquakes struck at magnitudes between 6 and 6.9 (higher than average) and 2,259 earthquakes struck at magnitudes between 5 and 5.9 (again, higher than average.)
Wednesday’s two earthquakes in Indonesia were greater than a magnitude of 8, making this year’s average already higher than normal — and it’s only April.
The numbers seem to paint a picture of more quakes than usual.
But the USGS cautions that an increase in detected earthquakes does not necessarily represent an actual increase in earthquakes.
On a myths page, the USGS writes:
Because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about earthquakes more quickly than ever before.
And even if averages were to matter, 2012, so far, is doing better than average.
The National Earthquake Information Center locates about 20,000 earthquakes every year, or about 55 per day. So far in 2012, we’ve experienced fewer quakes than that average. Seismophobics, take heart.