Unshaken by recent earthquakes

Published 8:58 pm Monday, March 8, 2010

With the latest earthquake in Turkey that has killed dozens, right on the heels of devastating earthquakes in Sumatra, Chile, Japan and Haiti, many might be wondering if the number of major earthquakes is increasing.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the American agency tasked with monitoring earthquakes around the globe, the answer is no.

According to the agency’s Web site, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained “fairly constant” and, according to records, have actually decreased in recent years.

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Perception and reality, however, are two different things. The saturation coverage of Haiti’s earthquake on Jan. 12 definitely made everyone more aware when an earthquake of the same magnitude hit Japan on Feb. 27, and then a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit a scant few hours later in Chile, which triggered tsunami warnings all around the Pacific Ocean.

Just a few days ago, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake shook the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, and we now are reading reports of an earthquake in Turkey that killed dozens, with the death toll still rising.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are about 50 earthquakes per day around the world. Most of them have little or no effect on humans.

Part of the apparent increase has to do with human psychology, the geological survey says.

“While the average number of large earthquakes per year is fairly constant, earthquakes occur in clusters,” the agency says on its site. “This is predicted by various statistical models, and does not imply that earthquakes that are distant in location, but close in time, are causally related. But when such clusters occur, especially when they are widely reported in the media, they are noticed. However, during the equally anomalous periods during which no destructive earthquakes occur, no one deems this as remarkable.”

For those who would like to get away from all the earthquakes, you might consider moving to Antarctica, which has the fewest earthquakes of any continent. Don’t think that you’re safe in Virginia, either — an earthquake estimated at magnitude 8.0 originated in Giles County, Va., on May 31, 1897, and shaking was reportedly felt from Georgia to Pennsylvania and westward to Indiana and Kentucky. Other earthquakes later estimated at magnitude 6.0 have struck in Virginia several times throughout the last 300 years.

More recently, in 2003, I myself felt an earthquake in Farmville, Va., while I was at college on Longwood University. Granted, it was so mild that my co-workers and I simply passed it off as construction at the time.

We did not discover until several hours later, when we got off work and headed back to our dorm rooms, that it had been an earthquake. The college was nice enough to send out an email to students letting us know what it was.

So, if you want to avoid earthquakes, move to Antarctica, but you might have other problems — namely, cold and lack of contact with the outside world.