Map Of World’s Earthquakes Astonishes Geologists

    June 30, 2012
    Amanda Crum

The wonders of the natural world are fascinating, frightening, and, in many cases, beautiful, even if the destruction they may cause is not. Nature, like the universe, is often up to things right under our noses that we aren’t even aware of. What we see and feel aren’t always in tandem, but sometimes visualizing the unseen creates beauty.

That was the unexpected result when map maker John Nelson created a timeline of every recorded earthquake since 1898 and lit it up with color according to magnitude. When he was finished, he found he had produced a lovely map of the Earth’s tectonic boundaries and their schedule of shifts; over 200,000.

“First, I was surprised by the sheer amount of earthquakes that have been recorded. It’s almost like you could walk from Seattle to Wellington [New Zealand] if these things were floating in the ocean, and I wouldn’t have expected that,” he said.

What’s even more interesting is that this only includes recorded tremors; back at the turn of the century, instruments used to measure earthquakes were much different than the ones used today, and some went without record at all.

Some of the planet’s biggest earthquakes occur near subduction zones, where the Earth’s plates overlap one another. These can be found particularly in the Northwest region near the Pacific Ocean, dubbed the “Ring Of Fire”. Nelson said he couldn’t believe the results when he mapped that area.

“I have a general sense of where it is, and a notion of plate tectonics, but when I first pulled the data in and started painting it in geographically, it was magnificent,” Nelson said. “I was awestruck at how rigid those bands of earthquake activity really are.”

Nelson has also created a timeline which integrates video and tornado mapping over a span of 61 years. The video becomes something of a flip-book, showing lovely, arresting blue lights where twisters were found for each year in the U.S.