Richter magnitude scale

The Richter magnitude test scale (or more correctly local magnitude ML scale) assigns a single number to quantify the size of an earthquake. It is a base-10 logarithmic scale obtained by calculating the logarithm of the combined horizontal amplitude of the largest displacement from zero on a seismogram. The diminution of amplitude due to distance between the earthquake epicenter and the seismometer is corrected for by subtracting the logarithm of the expected amplitude of a magnitude 0 event at that distance. This correction for distance is intended to make the local magnitude an absolute measure of earthquake size.



Developed in 1935 by Charles Richter in collaboration with Beno Gutenberg, both of the California Institute of Technology, the scale was originally intended to be used only in a particular study area in California, and on seismograms recorded on a particular instrument, the Wood-Anderson torsion seismometer. Richter originally reported values to the nearest quarter of a unit, but decimal numbers were used later. His motivation for creating the local magnitude scale was to separate the vastly larger number of smaller earthquakes from the few larger earthquakes observed in California at the time. His inspiration for the technique was the stellar magnitude scale used in astronomy to describe the brightness of stars and other celestial objects. Richter arbitrarily chose a magnitude 0 event to be an earthquake that would show a maximum combined horizontal displacement of 1 micrometre on a seismogram recorded using a Wood-Anderson torsion seismometer 100 km from the earthquake epicenter. This choice was intended to prevent negative magnitudes from being assigned. However, the Richter scale has no upper or lower limit, and sensitive modern seismographs now routinely record quakes with negative magnitudes.

Because of the limitations of the Wood-Anderson torsion seismometer used to develop the scale, the original ML cannot be calculated for events larger than about 6.8. Many investigators have proposed extensions to the local magnitude scale, the most popular being the surface wave magnitude MS and the body wave magnitude Mb.

Problems with the Richter scale

The major problem with Richter magnitude is that it is not easily related to physical characteristics of the earthquake source. Furthermore, there is a saturation effect near 8.3-8.5, owing to the scaling law of earthquake spectra, that causes traditional magnitude methods (such as MS) to yield the same magnitude estimate for events that are clearly of different size. By the beginning of the 21st century, most seismologists considered the traditional magnitude scales to be largely obsolete, being replaced by a more physically meaningful measurement called the seismic moment which is more directly relatable to the physical parameters, such as the dimension of the earthquake rupture, and the energy released from the earthquake. In 1979 seismologists Tom Hanks and Hiroo Kanamori, also of the California Institute of Technology, proposed the moment magnitude scale (MW), which provides a way of expressing seismic moments in a form that can be approximately related to traditional seismic magnitude measurements.

Magnitude must not be confused with intensity. Intensity scales, such as the Rossi-Forel and Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, are used to describe relative earthquake effects. Intensity is sensitive to a host of local site conditions and is not an absolute measurement of earthquake size.

Richter magnitudes

Events with magnitudes of about 4.5 or greater are strong enough to be recorded by seismographs all over the world.

The following describes the typical effects of earthquakes of various magnitudes near the epicenter. This table 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, and geological conditions (certain terrains can amplify seismic signals).

DescriptorRichter magnitudes Earthquake Effects Frequency of Occurrence
MicroLess than 2.0 Microearthquakes, not felt. About 8,000 per day
Very minor2.0-2.9 Generally not felt, but recorded. About 1,000 per day
Minor3.0-3.9 Often felt, but rarely causes damage. 49,000 (estimated) per year
Light4.0-4.9 Noticeable shaking of indoor items, rattling noises. Significant damage unlikely. 6,200 (estimated) per year
Moderate5.0-5.9 Can cause major damage to poorly constructed buildings over small regions. At most slight damage to well-designed buildings. 800 per year
Strong6.0-6.9 Can be destructive in areas up to about 100 miles across in populated areas. 120 per year
Major7.0-7.9 Can cause serious damage over larger areas. 18 per year
Great8.0-8.9 Can cause serious damage in areas several hundred miles across. 1 per year
Rare Great9.0 or greater Devastating in areas several thousand miles across. 1 per 20 years

(Adapted from U.S. Geological Survey documents.)

Great earthquakes occur once a year, on average. The largest recorded earthquake was Great Chilean Earthquake of May 22, 1960 which had a magnitude (MW) of 9.5 (Chile 1960).

The following table lists the approximate energy equivalents in terms of TNT explosive force.

Richter MagnitudeApproximate TNT for Seismic Energy YieldExample
-1.56 lbGrenade
1.0 30 lbConstruction site blast
1.5 320 lbWWII conventional bombs
2.0 1 tonWWII conventional bombs
2.5 4.6 tonWWII blockbuster bomb
3.0 29 tonMassive Ordnance Air Blast bomb
3.5 73 tonChelyabinsk nuclear accident, 1957
4.0 1 kilotonSmall atomic bomb
4.5 5.1 kilotonAverage tornado (total energy)
5.0 32 kilotonNagasaki atomic bomb
5.5 80 kilotonLittle Skull Mtn., NV Quake, 1992
6.0 1 megatonDouble Spring Flat, NV Quake, 1994
6.5 5 megatonNorthridge quake, 1994
7.0 32 megatonLargest thermonuclear weapon
7.5 160 megaton Landers, CA Quake, 1992
8.0 1 gigaton San Francisco, CA Quake, 1906
8.5 5 gigatonAnchorage, AK Quake, 1964
9.0 32 gigatonIndian Ocean quake/tsunami, 2004
10.01 teratonSan-Andreas type fault circling Earth

See also

External links

bg:Скала на Рихтер ca:Escala de Richter cs:Richterova škála da:Richterskalaen de:Richterskala et:Richteri skaala es:Escala sismolgica de Richter eo:Skalo de Richter fr:chelle de Richter id:Skala Richter is:Richter skalinn it:Scala Richter he:סולם ריכטר ms:Skala Richter nl:Schaal van Richter ja:マグニチュード nb:Richters skala nn:Richterskalaen pl:Skala Richtera pt:Escala de Richter ro:Scara Richter ru:МЯгнитуда землетрясения simple:Richter scale fi:Richterin asteikko sv:Richterskalan th:ริกเตอร์ zh:里氏地震規模


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