Seismic intensity scales
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Seismic intensity scales categorize the intensity or severity of ground shaking (quaking) at a given location, such as resulting from an earthquake. They are distinguished from seismic magnitude scales, which measure the magnitude or overall strength of an earthquake.
Intensity scales are based on the observed effects of the shaking, such as the degree to which people or animals were alarmed, and the extent and severity of damage to different kinds of structures or natural features. The maximal intensity observed, and the extent of the area where shaking was felt (see isosiesmal map, below), can be used to estimate the location and magnitude of the source earthquake; this is especially useful for historical earthquakes where there is no instrumental record.
Ground shaking can be caused in various ways (volcanic tremors, avalanches, large explosions, etc.), but shaking intense enough to cause damage is usually due to rupturing of the earth's crust known as earthquakes. The intensity of shaking depends on several factors:
- The "size" or strength of the source event, such as measured by various seismic magnitude scales.
- The type of seismic wave generated, and its orientation.
- The depth of the event.
- The distance from the source event.
- Site response due to local geology
Site response is especially important as certain conditions, such as unconsolidated sediments in a basin, can amplify ground motions as much as ten times.
Where an earthquake is not recorded on seismographs an isoseismal map showing the intensities felt at different areas can be used to estimate the location and magnitude of the quake. Such maps are also useful for estimating the shaking intensity, and thereby the likely level of damage, to be expected from a future earthquake of similar magnitude. In Japan this kind of information is used when an earthquake occurs to anticipate the severity of damage to be expected in different areas.
The intensity of local ground-shaking depends on several factors besides the magnitude of the earthquake, one of the most important being soil conditions. For instance, thick layers of soft soil (such as fill) can amplify seismic waves, often at a considerable distance from the source, while sedimentary basins will often resonate, increasing the duration of shaking. This is why, in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Marina district of San Francisco was one of the most damaged areas, though it was nearly 100 km from the epicenter. Geological structures were also significant, such as where seismic waves passing under the south end of San Francisco Bay reflected off the base of the Earth's crust towards San Francisco and Oakland. A similar effect channeled seismic waves between the other major faults in the area.
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The first simple classification of earthquake intensity was devised by Domenico Pignataro in the 1780s. However, the first recognisable intensity scale in the modern sense of the word was drawn up by P.N.G. Egen in 1828; it was ahead of its time. The first widely adopted intensity scale, the Rossi–Forel scale, was introduced in the late 19th century. Since then numerous intensity scales have been developed and are used in different parts of the world.
|Country/Region||Seismic intensity scale used|
|China||Liedu scale (GB/T 17742-1999)|
|Europe||European Macroseismic Scale (EMS-98)|
|Hong Kong||Modified Mercalli scale (MM)|
|Israel||Medvedev–Sponheuer–Karnik scale (MSK-64)|
|Kazakhstan||Medvedev–Sponheuer–Karnik scale (MSK-64)|
|Philippines||PHIVOLCS Earthquake Intensity Scale (PEIS)|
|Russia||Medvedev–Sponheuer–Karnik scale (MSK-64)|
|Taiwan||Central Weather Bureau Seismic Intensity Scale|
|United States||Modified Mercalli scale (MM)|
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- Doi, K. (2010), "Operational Procedures of Contributing Agencies" (PDF), Bulletin of the International Seismological Centre, 47 (7–12): 25, ISSN 2309-236X. Also available here (sections renumbered).
- USGS ShakeMap Providing near-real-time maps of ground motion and shaking intensity following significant earthquakes.