Time To Brush Up On The Richter Scale, Connecticut

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(WTNH) When one thinks of earthquake zones, one tends to think of California, or Japan, or Central America.  But earthquakes happen all the time in many places, including–as you’ve been hearing, or feeling, the past few days–Connecticut; three of them in the state since last Thursday, in fact. The largest one came today, centered near Plainfield.  It measured 3.3 on the Richter scale.  The one Thursday which made news had a magnitude of 2.3..

But if you think that means today’s quake was one-tenth stronger than Thursday’s, you clearly weren’t paying attention for part or all of your seventh-grade earth science class.  The Richter scale is weird, and this seems like a good time for a little remedial science education

The scale, developed by geologist Charles Richter in the 1930’s, is, to put it mildly, counterintuitive.  In technical terms, the scale is “logarithmic,” which means a one-point hike in the strength of the quake is not one-tenth stronger, but ten times as big.  Not only that, the Richter scale also measures the energy released by a quake, and that goes up at an even more alarming rate…by a factor of 32 for each one-point increase in magnitude.

So today’s Connecticut quake was ten-times stronger than last Thursday’s, and released more than 30-times the amount of energy.  It still rates as a minor earthquake.  But tell that to the people in Plainfield who thought a bomb had gone off in their back yard.  Even so, from an international perspective, it’s barely newsworthy.  It’s estimated there are 100,000 quakes of between 3 and 4 magnitude each year.

Anyone who’s experienced an earthquake of any size never forgets it.  It’s as if the one last thing you can truly depend on — the ground beneath your feet — is just as undependable as….well, almost everything else.  I lived in Southern California for a few years, and felt two of them, and I remember exactly where I was both times.  It gets your attention.  But it’s all relative.  What I call unforgettable, Californians call Tuesday.  Or in the most recent event in the Nutmeg State — Monday.

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