Latest Update on Earthquake Statistics

Two years ago I published an article in Plus magazine debunking claims buzzing around on the internet about a supposed recent increase in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and so on. In that article I showed in detail how anyone can analyze publicly available data to put such claims to the test. In the current post, as I did last year, I present another update on earthquake statistics.

In the earlier Plus article, I showed how earthquake data can be downloaded from the USGS website and analyzed for any trends. I chose to look at earthquakes of magnitude 5 and larger (M5+), as those are the ones that can potentially cause damage or even casualties. I showed two graphs, one with monthly earthquake counts from January 1996 to December 2016, and one with yearly counts for the same range of years. For details, also on the statistical analysis, see the original article.

This data showed that there was indeed a significant build-up in number of earthquakes from the early 2000s until 2011. However, after the major M9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan in March of 2011, there was a clear drop in number of earthquakes, bringing it back to the level it was about 10 years earlier, and staying at that level until the end of 2016.

Last year I updated these statistics to include all of 2017, and in this post I also include all of 2018. The following plot shows the monthly M5+ earthquake counts (worldwide) from January 1996 until December 2018. The big spike is due to the March 2011 M9.0 Japan earthquake which caused many aftershocks. The red line is a 12-month running average.

The next plot shows the yearly counts for 1996 until 2018. It clearly shows that after the major 2011 event, the level of earthquakes dropped significantly and has since remained at a fairly constant level, although 2018 has seen the highest count since 2011.

In conclusion, there is still no evidence at all that there has been a continuous increase in the number of earthquakes recently. There has been a significant increase during the first decade of the 21st century. However, since then things seem have gone back to “normal” levels again, and have stayed that way. As before, keep an eye out for next year’s update…