How big is BIG? To get some measure of the major earthquake in Haiti, here's some data on Earthquake Magnitude and Intensity.
Earthquake Magnitude Classes - Richter Scale of Magnitude
Earthquakes are also classified in categories ranging from minor to great, depending on their magnitude.
The Richter Scale is not used to express damage. An earthquake in a densely populated area which results in many deaths and considerable damage may have the same magnitude as a shock in a remote area that does nothing more than frighten the wildlife. Large-magnitude earthquakes that occur beneath the oceans may not even be felt by humans.
|Class||Magnitude - Richter |
|Great||8 or more|
|Major||7 - 7.9 HAITI 1/12/10 |
|Strong||6 - 6.9|
|Moderate||5 - 5.9|
|Light||4 - 4.9|
|Magnitude||Earthquake Effects||Estimated Number |
Each Year - Worldwide
|2.5 or less||Usually not felt, but can be recorded by seismograph.||900,000|
|2.5 to 5.4||Often felt, but only causes minor damage.||30,000|
|5.5 to 6.0||Slight damage to buildings and other structures.||500|
|6.1 to 6.9||May cause a lot of damage in very populated areas.||100|
|7.0 to 7.9||Major earthquake. Serious damage.||20|
|8.0 or greater||Great earthquake. Can totally destroy communities near the epicenter.||One every 5|
to 10 years
The effect of an earthquake on the Earth's surface is called the intensity. The intensity scale consists of a series of certain key responses such as people awakening, movement of furniture, damage to chimneys, and finally--total destruction. Although numerous intensity scales have been developed over the last several hundred years to evaluate the effects of earthquakes, the one currently used in the United States is the Modified Mercalli (MM) Intensity Scale. It was developed in 1931 by the American seismologists Harry Wood and Frank Neumann. This scale, composed of 12 increasing levels of intensity that range from imperceptible shaking to catastrophic destruction, is designated by Roman numerals. It does not have a mathematical basis; instead it is an arbitrary ranking based on observed effects.
The following is an abbreviated description of the 12 levels of Modified Mercalli intensity.
- Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions.
- Felt only by a few persons at rest, especially on upper floors of buildings. Delicately suspended objects may swing.
- Felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings. Many people do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibration similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.
- Felt indoors by many, outdoors by few during the day. At night, some awakened. Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.
- Felt by nearly everyone; many awakened. some dishes, windows broken. Unstable objects overturned. Pendulum clocks may stop.
- Felt by all, many frightened. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.
- Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.
- Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chmineys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.
- Damage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.
- Some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundations. Rail bent.
- Few, if any (masonry) structures remain standing. Bridges destroyed. Rails bent greatly.
- Damage total. Lines of sight and level are distorted. Objects thrown into the air.
Sources: Michigan Tech and USGS