How do scientists measure the size of earthquakes?
The size of an earthquake depends on the size of the fault and the amount of slip on the fault, but that’s not something scientists can simply measure with a measuring tape since faults are many kilometers deep beneath the earth’s surface. So how do they measure an earthquake? They use the seismogram recordings made on the seismographs at the surface of the earth to determine how large the earthquake was (figure 5). A short wiggly line that doesn’t wiggle very much means a small earthquake, and a long wiggly line that wiggles a lot means a large earthquake. The length of the wiggle depends on the size of the fault, and the size of the wiggle depends on the amount of slip. The size of the earthquake is called its magnitude. There is one magnitude for each earthquake. Scientists also talk about the intensity of shaking from an earthquake, and this varies depending on where you are during the earthquake.