People email me all the time to ask me if major quakes are increasing and I have tried my best to answer that question as best as I can. We are now entering a new decade, so, I have gone back to all the old data I have collected from USGS over the years to see if I can find the answer, the graph above was made today, 26th of December, 2019, and all the data for this graph, I downloaded from USGS this morning. The simple graph shows major quakes by the decade since 1900 when modern earthquake tracking began.
Back in 2014, I began researching the USGS Earthquake Program archives to find the answer to the age-old question which had been niggling away at me for years, are major quakes increasing?
Back in 2014, after what seemed like hours of painstakingly logging every major quake since 1900 from the USGS site I was left in no doubt, major quakes were increasing at a terrifying rate, however, there was a paradox which doesn't quite fit the narrative. Major quakes in the mag 6 to 6.9 range had increases astonishingly over the 114 years since 1900, however, magnitude 7 upward had remained stable over the 114 year period, a paradox if you like, see my graph from 2014 below. As you can see, the graph below does not look anything like the graph I made this morning above, I will try and explain this later.
I accessed the earthquake information website USGS and downloaded every quake of a magnitude 6 or greater and fed the information into a series of graphs, the results as you can see above are outstanding! In the year 1900 our planet recorded 22 earthquakes of M6. or greater, 9 were between M6 to 6.9, 13 were between M7 to 7.9. Exactly 100 years later in the year 2000 our planet recorded a staggering 173 earthquakes of M6. or greater, of which 158 were between M6 to 6.9 and 15 above M6.9.
Now below is a similar graph I made back in 2014 showing major quakes per decade since 1900 to 2009 with the data I collected from USGS, the graph below should resemble the graph at the top of the page, the graph I made this morning showing major quakes per decade since 1900 to present
It is because the United States Geological Survey, (USGS) altered historic data on their website sometime between 2014 and March 2017. How do I know this? In 2017, I went back to the USGS site and began the whole exercise of downloading all major quakes from 1900 to April 2017 to verify my findings. Why would I want to do this again, you may wonder? Well, I had read a headline in early 2017 which the United States Geological Survey (USGS) had gone on record as saying major quakes are not increasing, they clearly stated that no such increase has been detected around the world, which I thought was a strange statement when their own historic data showed otherwise, so I started the laborious task of logging every major quake since 1900 to present, which was April 2017 at that time, what I discovered was very strange indeed!
Imagine my shock and surprise when I realised the historic data had been altered making the terrifying graph look more stable and without a steep upward curve, the information my new graph gave was simply this, major quakes have been stable since the 1950s and are not increasing! Which is a totally different picture to the one I stumbled on in 2014, see the graph I made in 2017, which should look like the second graph on the page above but it doesn't look anything like it whatsoever, the one below is much more stable.
Below is the original graph from 2014, once again, look at the difference from the one above, this one from 2014, marks a striking difference from 2017 graph above!
So what happened between 2014 and early 2017, why did USGS change their historic data and why did they go on record saying major quakes are not increasing when they clearly are?
So what happened? Conclusion; the total number of mag 6+ quakes officially on the USGS web site, from 1900 to the last day of 2013 which I downloaded and graphed in 2014 came to a total of 9,181 However, the grand total when I relaunched my research in April 2017 came to 10,998 major quakes, from Jan 1st 1900 to the 31st of Dec 2016. What does that mean?
Between 2014 and early 2017 an astonishing 1,817 mag 6+ quakes have been added to the USGS historical data. Why would they add more quakes? I have no idea and maybe there is a perfectly good reason but the fact is, 1,817 magnitude 6+ quakes have been added to USGS data from the period 1900 to April 2017.
What I can honestly say the last two decades have been remarkably stable compared to the 20th century, I now try to monitor every major quake and I try to use other quake sites for conformation, USGS does have a habit of downgrading many major quakes for some reason, are major quakes increasing? Not in the 21st century, see the graph below.
More graphs below.
Below a picture of my well-worked data from 2014
And below my old 2014 research book, which I still have...Full of wonder!
Written compiled and researched by Gary Walton