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Richter scale

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Richter scale

Template:Earthquakes The Richter magnitude scale (often shortened to Richter scale) was developed to assign a single number to quantify the energy released during an earthquake.

The scale is a base-10 logarithmic scale. The magnitude is defined as the logarithm of the ratio of the amplitude of waves measured by a seismograph to an arbitrary small amplitude. An earthquake that measures 5.0 on the Richter scale has a shaking amplitude 10 times larger than one that measures 4.0, and corresponds to a 31.6 times larger release of energy.[1]

Since the mid-20th century, the use of the Richter magnitude scale has largely been supplanted by the moment magnitude scale (MMS) in many countries. However, the Richter scale is still widely used in Russia and other CIS countries. Earthquake measurements under the moment magnitude scale in the United States—3.5 and up, on the MMS scale—are still usually erroneously referred to as being quoted on the Richter scale by the general public, as well as the media, due to their familiarity with the Richter scale as opposed to the MMS.


Developed in 1935 by Charles Francis Richter in partnership with Beno Gutenberg, both from the California Institute of Technology, the scale was firstly intended to be used only in a particular study area in California, and on seismograms recorded on a particular instrument, the Wood-Anderson torsion seismograph. Richter originally reported values to the nearest quarter of a unit, but values were later reported with one decimal place. His motivation for creating the local magnitude scale was to compare the size of different earthquakes.[1] Richter, who since childhood had aspirations in astronomy, drew inspiration from the apparent magnitude scale used to account for the brightness of stars lost due to distance.[2] Richter arbitrarily chose a magnitude 0 event to be an earthquake that would show a maximum combined horizontal displacement of 1 µm (0.00004 in) on a seismogram recorded using a Wood-Anderson torsion seismograph 100 km (62 mi) from the earthquake epicenter. This choice was intended to prevent negative magnitudes from being assigned. The smallest earthquakes that could be recorded and located at the time were around magnitude 3. However, the Richter scale has no lower limit, and sensitive modern seismographs now routinely record quakes with negative magnitudes.

ML (local magnitude) was not designed to be applied to data with distances to the hypocenter of the earthquake greater than 600 km[3] (373 mi). For national and local seismological observatories the standard magnitude scale is today still ML. Unfortunately this scale saturates at around ML = 7,[4] because the high frequency waves recorded locally have wavelengths shorter than the rupture lengths of large earthquakes.

To express the size of earthquakes around the globe, Gutenberg and Richter later developed a magnitude scale based on surface waves, surface wave magnitude Ms; and another based on body waves, body wave magnitude mb.[5] These are types of waves that are recorded at teleseismic distances. The two scales were adjusted such that they were consistent with the ML scale. This succeeded better with the Ms scale than with the mb scale. Both of these scales saturate when the earthquake is bigger than magnitude 8 and therefore the moment magnitude scale, Mw, was invented.[6]

These older magnitude scales have been superseded by methods for estimating the seismic moment, creating the moment magnitude scale, although the older scales are still widely used because they can be calculated quickly.

I found a paper by Professor Charles Richter Interview


The Richter scale proper was defined in 1935 for particular circumstances and instruments; the instrument used saturated for strong earthquakes. The scale was replaced by the moment magnitude scale (MMS); for earthquakes adequately measured by the Richter scale, numerical values are approximately the same. Although values measured for earthquakes now are actually M_w (MMS), they are frequently reported as Richter values, even for earthquakes of magnitude over 8, where the Richter scale becomes meaningless. Anything above 5 is classified as a risk by the USGS.

The Richter and MMS scales measure the energy released by an earthquake; another scale, the Mercalli intensity scale, classifies earthquakes by their effects, from detectable by instruments but not noticeable to catastrophic. The energy and effects are not necessarily strongly correlated; a shallow earthquake in a populated area with soil of certain types can be far more intense than a much more energetic deep earthquake in an isolated area.

There are several scales which have historically been described as the "Richter scale," especially the local magnitude M_L and the surface wave M_s scale. In addition, the body wave magnitude, m_b, and the moment magnitude, M_w, abbreviated MMS, have been widely used for decades, and a couple of new techniques to measure magnitude are in the development stage.

All magnitude scales have been designed to give numerically similar results. This goal has been achieved well for M_L, M_s, and M_w.[7][8] The m_b scale gives somewhat different values than the other scales. The reason for so many different ways to measure the same thing is that at different distances, for different hypocentral depths, and for different earthquake sizes, the amplitudes of different types of elastic waves must be measured.

M_L is the scale used for the majority of earthquakes reported (tens of thousands) by local and regional seismological observatories. For large earthquakes worldwide, the moment magnitude scale is most common, although M_s is also reported frequently.

The seismic moment, M_o, is proportional to the area of the rupture times the average slip that took place in the earthquake, thus it measures the physical size of the event. M_w is derived from it empirically as a quantity without units, just a number designed to conform to the M_s scale.[9] A spectral analysis is required to obtain M_o, whereas the other magnitudes are derived from a simple measurement of the amplitude of a specifically defined wave.

All scales, except M_w, saturate for large earthquakes, meaning they are based on the amplitudes of waves which have a wavelength shorter than the rupture length of the earthquakes. These short waves (high frequency waves) are too short a yardstick to measure the extent of the event. The resulting effective upper limit of measurement for M_L is about 7[4] and about 8.5[4] for M_s.[10]

New techniques to avoid the saturation problem and to measure magnitudes rapidly for very large earthquakes are being developed. One of these is based on the long period P-wave,[11] the other is based on a recently discovered channel wave.[12]

The energy release of an earthquake,[13] which closely correlates to its destructive power, scales with the 32 power of the shaking amplitude. Thus, a difference in magnitude of 1.0 is equivalent to a factor of 31.6 (=({10^{1.0}})^{(3/2)}) in the energy released; a difference in magnitude of 2.0 is equivalent to a factor of 1000 (=({10^{2.0}})^{(3/2)} ) in the energy released.[14] The elastic energy radiated is best derived from an integration of the radiated spectrum, but one can base an estimate on m_b because most energy is carried by the high frequency waves.

Richter magnitudes

The Richter magnitude of an earthquake is determined from the logarithm of the amplitude of waves recorded by seismographs (adjustments are included to compensate for the variation in the distance between the various seismographs and the epicenter of the earthquake). The original formula is:[15]

M_\mathrm{L} = \log_{10} A - \log_{10} A_\mathrm{0}(\delta) = \log_{10} [A / A_\mathrm{0}(\delta)],\

where A is the maximum excursion of the Wood-Anderson seismograph, the empirical function A0 depends only on the epicentral distance of the station, \delta. In practice, readings from all observing stations are averaged after adjustment with station-specific corrections to obtain the ML value.

Because of the logarithmic basis of the scale, each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured amplitude; in terms of energy, each whole number increase corresponds to an increase of about 31.6 times the amount of energy released, and each increase of 0.2 corresponds to a doubling of the energy released.

Events with magnitudes greater than 4.5 are strong enough to be recorded by a seismograph anywhere in the world, so long as its sensors are not located in the earthquake's shadow.

The following describes the typical effects of earthquakes of various magnitudes near the epicenter. The values are typical only and should be taken with extreme caution, since intensity and thus ground effects depend not only on the magnitude, but also on the distance to the epicenter, the depth of the earthquake's focus beneath the epicenter, the location of the epicenter and geological conditions (certain terrains can amplify seismic signals).

Magnitude Description Mercalli intensity Average earthquake effects Average frequency of occurrence (estimated)
Less than 2.0 Micro I Microearthquakes, not felt, or felt rarely by sensitive people. Recorded by seismographs.[16] Continual/several million per year
2.0–2.9 Minor I to II Felt slightly by some people. No damage to buildings. Over one million per year
3.0–3.9 II to IV Often felt by people, but very rarely causes damage. Shaking of indoor objects can be noticeable. Over 100,000 per year
4.0–4.9 Light IV to VI Noticeable shaking of indoor objects and rattling noises. Felt by most people in the affected area. Slightly felt outside. Generally causes none to minimal damage. Moderate to significant damage very unlikely. Some objects may fall off shelves or be knocked over. 10,000 to 15,000 per year
5.0–5.9 Moderate VI to VIII Can cause damage of varying severity to poorly constructed buildings. At most, none to slight damage to all other buildings. Felt by everyone. Casualties range from none to a few. 1,000 to 1,500 per year
6.0–6.9 Strong VII to X Damage to a moderate number of well built structures in populated areas. Earthquake-resistant structures survive with slight to moderate damage. Poorly-designed structures receive moderate to severe damage. Felt in wider areas; up to hundreds of miles/kilometers from the epicenter. Strong to violent shaking in epicentral area. Death toll ranges from none to 25,000. 100 to 150 per year
7.0–7.9 Major VIII or greater[17] Causes damage to most buildings, some to partially or completely collapse or receive severe damage. Well-designed structures are likely to receive damage. Felt across great distances with major damage mostly limited to 250 km from epicenter. Death toll ranges from none to 250,000. 10 to 20 per year
8.0–8.9 Great Major damage to buildings, structures likely to be destroyed. Will cause moderate to heavy damage to sturdy or earthquake-resistant buildings. Damaging in large areas. Felt in extremely large regions. Death toll ranges from 1,000 to 1 million. One per year
9.0 and greater Near or at total destruction - severe damage or collapse to all buildings. Heavy damage and shaking extends to distant locations. Permanent changes in ground topography. Death toll usually over 50,000. One per 10 to 50 years

(Based on U.S. Geological Survey documents.)[18]

The intensity and death toll depend on several factors (earthquake depth, epicenter location, population density, to name a few) and can vary widely.

Minor earthquakes occur every day and hour. On the other hand, great earthquakes occur once a year, on average. The largest recorded earthquake was the Great Chilean Earthquake of May 22, 1960, which had a magnitude of 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale.[19] The larger the magnitude, the less frequent the earthquake happens.


The following table lists the approximate energy equivalents in terms of TNT explosive force – though note that the earthquake energy is released underground rather than overground.[20] Most energy from an earthquake is not transmitted to and through the surface; instead, it dissipates into the crust and other subsurface structures. In contrast, a small atomic bomb blast (see nuclear weapon yield) will not simply cause light shaking of indoor items, since its energy is released above ground.

31.6227 to the power of 0 equals 1, 31.6227 to the power of 1 equals 31.6227 and 31.6227 to the power of 2 equals 1000. Therefore, an 8.0 on the Richter scale releases 31.6227 times more energy than a 7.0 and a 9.0 on the Richter scale releases 1000 times more energy than a 7.0. Thus, E \approx 6.3\times 10^4\times 10^{3M/2}\,

Approximate Magnitude Approximate TNT for
Seismic Energy Yield
Joule equivalent Example
0.0 15 g 63 kJ
0.2 30 g 130 kJ Large hand grenade
0.5 85 g 360 kJ
1.0 480 g 2.0 MJ
1.2 1.1 kg 4.9 MJ Single stick of dynamite [DynoMax Pro]
1.4 2.2 kg 9.8 MJ Seismic impact of typical small construction blast
1.5 2.7 kg 11 MJ
2.0 15 kg 63 MJ
2.1 21 kg 89 MJ West fertilizer plant explosion[21]
2.5 85 kg 360 MJ
3.0 480 kg 2.0 GJ Oklahoma City bombing, 1995
3.5 2.7 metric tons 11 GJ PEPCON fuel plant explosion, Henderson, Nevada, 1988

Dallas, Texas earthquake, September 30, 2012

3.87 9.5 metric tons 40 GJ Explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 1986
3.91 11 metric tons 46 GJ Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb

St. Patrick's Day earthquake, Auckland, New Zealand, 2013 [22][23]

4.0 15 metric tons 63 GJ Maine/New England, October 16, 2012
4.3 43 metric tons 180 GJ Kent Earthquake (Britain), 2007

Eastern Kentucky earthquake, November 2012

5.0 480 metric tons 2.0 TJ Lincolnshire earthquake (UK), 2008

M_W Ontario-Quebec earthquake (Canada), 2010[24][25]

5.5 2.7 kilotons 11 TJ Little Skull Mtn. earthquake (Nevada, USA), 1992

M_W Alum Rock earthquake (California), 2007
M_W Chino Hills earthquake (Southern California), 2008

5.6 3.8 kilotons 16 TJ Newcastle, Australia, 1989

Oklahoma, 2011
Pernik, Bulgaria, 2012

6.0 15 kilotons 63 TJ Double Spring Flat earthquake (Nevada, USA), 1994

Approximate magnitude of Virginia/Washington, D.C./East Coast earthquake, 2011
Approximate yield of the Little Boy Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima (~16 kt)

6.3 43 kilotons 180 TJ M_W Rhodes earthquake (Greece), 2008

Jericho earthquake (British Palestine), 1927
Christchurch earthquake (New Zealand), 2011

6.4 60 kilotons 250 TJ Kaohsiung earthquake (Taiwan), 2010

Vancouver earthquake (Canada), 2011

6.5 85 kilotons 360 TJ M_S Caracas earthquake (Venezuela), 1967

Irpinia earthquake (Italy), 1980
M_W Eureka earthquake (California, USA), 2010
Zumpango del Rio earthquake (Guerrero, Mexico), 2011[26]

6.6 120 kilotons 500 TJ M_W San Fernando earthquake (California, USA), 1971
6.7 170 kilotons 710 TJ M_W Northridge earthquake (California, USA), 1994
6.8 240 kilotons 1.0 PJ M_W Nisqually earthquake (Anderson Island, WA), 2001

M_W Great Hanshin earthquake (Kobe, Japan), 1995
Gisborne earthquake (Gisborne, NZ), 2007

6.9 340 kilotons 1.4 PJ M_W San Francisco Bay Area earthquake (California, USA), 1989

M_W Pichilemu earthquake (Chile), 2010
M_W Sikkim earthquake (Nepal-India Border), 2011

7.0 480 kilotons 2.0 PJ M_W Java earthquake (Indonesia), 2009

M_W Haiti earthquake, 2010

7.1 680 kilotons 2.8 PJ M_W Messina earthquake (Italy), 1908

M_W San Juan earthquake (Argentina), 1944
M_W Canterbury earthquake (New Zealand), 2010

7.2 950 kilotons 4.0 PJ Vrancea earthquake (Romania), 1977

M_W 1980 Azores Islands Earthquake
M_W Baja California earthquake (Mexico), 2010

7.5 2.7 megatons 11 PJ M_W Kashmir earthquake (Pakistan), 2005

M_W Antofagasta earthquake (Chile), 2007

7.6 3.8 megatons 16 PJ M_W Nicoya earthquake (Costa Rica), 2012

M_W Oaxaca earthquake (Mexico), 2012
M_W Gujarat earthquake (India), 2001
M_W İzmit earthquake (Turkey), 1999
M_W Jiji earthquake (Taiwan), 1999

7.7 5.4 megatons 22 PJ M_W Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2010

M_W Haida Gwaii earthquake (Canada), 2012

7.8 7.6 megatons 32 PJ M_W Tangshan earthquake (China), 1976

M_S Hawke's Bay earthquake (New Zealand), 1931
M_S Luzon earthquake (Philippines), 1990

7.9 10-15 megatons 42-63 PJ Tunguska event
1802 Vrancea earthquake

M_W Great Kanto earthquake (Japan), 1923

8.0 15 megatons 63 PJ M_S Mino-Owari earthquake (Japan), 1891

San Juan earthquake (Argentina), 1894
San Francisco earthquake (California, USA), 1906
M_S Queen Charlotte Islands earthquake (B.C., Canada), 1949
M_W Chincha Alta earthquake (Peru), 2007
M_S Sichuan earthquake (China), 2008
Kangra earthquake, 1905

8.1 21 megatons 89 PJ México City earthquake (Mexico), 1985

Guam earthquake, August 8, 1993[27]

8.35 50 megatons 210 PJ Tsar Bomba - Largest thermonuclear weapon ever tested
8.5 85 megatons 360 PJ M_W Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2007
8.6 120 megatons 500 PJ M_W Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2012
8.7 170 megatons 710 PJ M_W Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2005
8.75 200 megatons 840 PJ Krakatoa 1883
8.8 240 megatons 1.0 EJ M_W Chile earthquake, 2010,
9.0 480 megatons 2.0 EJ M_W Lisbon earthquake (Portugal), All Saints Day, 1755
M_W The Great Japan earthquake, March 2011
9.15 800 megatons 3.3 EJ Toba eruption 75,000 years ago; among the largest known volcanic events.[28]
9.2 950 megatons 4.0 EJ M_W Anchorage earthquake (Alaska, USA), 1964
M_W Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and tsunami (Indonesia), 2004
9.5 2.7 gigatons 11 EJ M_W Valdivia earthquake (Chile), 1960
10.0 15 gigatons 63 EJ Never recorded, equivalent to an earthquake rupturing a very large, lengthy fault, or an extremely rare/impossible mega-earthquake, shown in science fiction
12.55 100 teratons 420 ZJ Yucatán Peninsula impact (creating Chicxulub crater) 65 Ma ago (108 megatons; over 4x1030 ergs = 400 ZJ).[29][30][31][32][33]
22.88 or 32 310 yottatons 1.3×1039 J Approximate magnitude of the starquake on the magnetar SGR 1806-20, registered on December 27, 2004.
  • Quakes using the more modern magnitude scales will denote their abbreviations: M_W and M_S. Those that have no denoted prefix are M_L. Please be advised that the magnitude "number" (example 7.0) displayed for those quakes on this table may represent a significantly greater or lesser release in energy than by the correctly given magnitude (example M_W).

Magnitude empirical formulae

These formulae are an alternative method to calculate Richter magnitude instead of using Richter correlation tables based on Richter standard seismic event (M_\mathrm{L}=0, A=0.001mm, D=100 km).

The Lillie empirical formula:

M_\mathrm{L} = \log_{10}A - 2.48+ 2.76\log_{10}\Delta


  • A is the amplitude (maximum ground displacement) of the P-wave, in micrometers, measured at 0.8 Hz.
  • \Delta is the epicentral distance, in km.

For distance less than 200 km:

M_\mathrm{L} = \log_{10} A + 1.6\log_{10} D - 0.15

For distance between 200 km and 600 km:

M_\mathrm{L} = \log_{10} A + 3.0\log_{10} D - 3.38

where A is seismograph signal amplitude in mm, D distance in km.

The Bisztricsany (1958) empirical formula for epicentral distances between 4˚ to 160˚:

M_\mathrm{L} = 2.92 + 2.25 \log_{10} (\tau) - 0.001 \Delta^{\circ}


  • M_\mathrm{L} is magnitude (mainly in the range of 5 to 8)
  • \tau is the duration of the surface wave in seconds
  • \Delta is the epicentral distance in degrees.

The Tsumura empirical formula:

M_\mathrm{L} = -2.53 + 2.85 \log_{10} (F-P) + 0.0014 \Delta^{\circ}


  • M_\mathrm{L} is the magnitude (mainly in the range of 3 to 5).
  • F-P is the total duration of oscillation in seconds.
  • \Delta is the epicentral distance in kilometers.

The Tsuboi, University of Tokio, empirical formula:

M_\mathrm{L} = \log_{10}A + 1.73\log_{10}\Delta - 0.83


  • M_\mathrm{L} is the magnitude.
  • A is the amplitude in um.
  • \Delta is the epicentral distance in kilometers.

See also

Earthquakes portal


External links

  • IRIS Real-time Seismic Monitor of the Earth
  • USGS: magnitude and intensity comparison
  • USGS: Earthquake Magnitude Policy
  • USGS: 2000–2006 Earthquakes worldwide
  • USGS: 1990–1999 Earthquakes worldwide
  • Alaska Railroad Earthquake with a table of yield-to-magnitude relations.
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