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Visualizing the Power and Frequency of Earthquakes

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Earthquake Magnitude

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Earthquake Magnitude

Visualizing the Power and Frequency of Earthquakes

The surface of our planet is in a constant state of creation and destruction as the plates of the Earth collide. It is this movement of the Earth’s crust that causes earthquakes, sending tremors throughout the world.

Today’s graphic is inspired by a classic USGS diagram that tracks the scale and frequency of earthquakes.

Shifting Foundations

Earthquakes occur because the crust of the Earth is made up of several plates. The boundaries of these plates create faults that can run into one another.

Earthquakes describe both the mechanism that causes a sudden stress release along plate boundaries and also the ensuing ground shaking.

They occur when stress builds up along a tectonic fault. This stress causes the two surfaces of the fault, which had previously been stuck together due to friction, to suddenly move, or slide, releasing energy in the form of seismic waves.

Measuring an Earthquake’s Impact

There are three factors to assess the impact of Earthquakes – magnitude, energy, and intensity.

Magnitude is a number most commonly associated with the Richter scale, describing the size of an Earthquake on a scale from 0 to 10 – the latter of which is the maximum motion recorded by a seismograph. Each increase by one on the scale represents a tenfold increase in the amplitude. There are over a million tremors around the planet each year, but it’s not until an earthquake reaches a magnitude of 4 that humans can typically feel it.

Another way to measure the size of an earthquake is by how much energy it releases. The amount of energy radiated by an earthquake is a measure of the potential for damage to man-made structures.

An earthquake releases energy at various frequencies, and in order to calculate accurately, you have to include all frequencies of shaking for the entire event. Some research suggests technology could harness this energy for power generation.

Intensity describes the severity of an earthquake with a qualitative evaluation of its effects on the Earth’s surface and on the built environment. An earthquake may have a high magnitude but if a city or landscape experiences little damage, it can be said that the intensity is low. The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale measures this intensity.

The World’s Largest Earthquakes by Magnitude

Prior to the development and use of seismographs, around 1900, scientists could only estimate magnitudes, based on historical reports of the extent and severity of damage.

DateLocationMagnitude
May 22, 1960Valdivia, Chile9.4-9.6
March 27, 1964Prince William Sound, Alaska9.2
Dec. 26, 2004Indian Ocean, Sumatra, Indonesia9.1
March 11, 2011Pacific Ocean, Tohoku Region, Japan9.1
July 8, 1730Valparaiso, Chile9.1-9.3 (est.)
Nov. 4, 1952Kamchatka, Russia9
Aug. 13, 1868Arica, Chile8.5-9.0 (est.)
January 26, 1700Pacific Coast, Modern Day British Columbia8.7-9.2 (est.)
April 2, 1762Chittagong, Bangladesh8.8 (est.)
Nov. 25, 1833Sumatra Indonesia8.8 (est.)

Earthquakes are a fact of life on Earth and mark distinct moments in history. One would think given our knowledge of earthquakes, that humans would avoid these locations – however, the very faults of the Earth also create its greatest advantages.

Living with Your Faults

It’s extremely common to find human settlements along the fault lines where earthquakes occur most frequently. Some could say that this is because these decisions were made before a complete understanding of science enabled us to know the potential risks involved.

However, a recent scientific study reveals that there may be more to the pattern than previously thought. Tectonically active plates may have produced greater biodiversity, more food, and water for our human predecessors.

Certain landscape features formed by tectonic processes such as cliffs, river gorges, and sedimentary valleys create environments that support access to drinking water, shelter, and an abundant food supply.

This inherent problem reveals that humans are more connected to their environments than previously thought. It comes down to a question of how well humans can adapt their lifestyle and built environments to a dynamic planet.

Now let’s worry about the asteroids

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Misc

A Visual Guide to Human Emotion

For years, humans have attempted to categorize and codify human emotion. Here are those attempts, visualized.

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visual guide to human emotions wheel

A Visual Guide to Human Emotion

Despite vast differences in culture around the world, humanity’s DNA is 99.9% similar.

There are few attributes more central and universal to the human experience than our emotions. Of course, the broad spectrum of emotions we’re capable of experiencing can be difficult to articulate. That’s where this brilliant visualization by the Junto Institute comes in.

This circular visualization is the latest in an ongoing attempt to neatly categorize the full range of emotions in a logical way.

A Taxonomy of Human Emotion

Our understanding has come a long way since William James proposed four basic emotions – fear, grief, love, and rage—though these core emotions still form much of the foundation for current frameworks.

The wheel visualization above identifies six root emotions:

  1. Fear
  2. Anger
  3. Sadness
  4. Surprise
  5. Joy
  6. Love

From these six emotions, more nuanced descriptions emerge, such as jealousy as a subset of anger, and awe-struck as a subset of surprise. In total, there are 102 second- and third-order emotions listed on this emotion wheel.

Reinventing the Feeling Wheel

The concept of mapping the range of human emotions on a wheel picked up traction in the 1980s, and has evolved ever since.

One of these original concepts was developed by American psychologist Robert Plutchik, who mapped eight primary emotions—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These “high survival value” emotions were believed to be the most useful in keeping our ancient ancestors alive.

plutchik emotion wheel

Another seminal graphic concept was developed by author Dr. Gloria Willcox. This version of the emotions wheel has spawned dozens of similar designs, as people continue to try to improve on the concept.

willcox feelings wheel

Further Exploration

The more we research human emotion, the more nuanced our understanding becomes in terms of how we react to the world around us.

Researchers at UC Berkeley used 2,185 short video clips to elicit emotions from study participants. Study participants rated the videos using 27 dimensions of self-reported emotional experience, and the results were mapped in an incredible interactive visualization. It is interesting to note that some video clips garnered a wide array of responses, while other clips elicit a near unanimous emotional response.

Here are some example videos and the distribution of responses:

reported emotional reaction to video clips

The data visualization clusters these types of videos together, giving us a unique perspective on how people respond to certain types of stimuli.

Much like emotion itself, our desire to understand and classify the world around us is powerful and uniquely human.

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Markets

Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points

Ocean shipping is the primary mode of international trade. This map identifies maritime choke points that pose a risk to this complex logistic network.

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maritime choke points

Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points

Maritime transport is an essential part of international trade—approximately 80% of global merchandise is shipped via sea.

Because of its importance, commercial shipping relies on strategic trade routes to move goods efficiently. These waterways are used by thousands of vessels a year—but it’s not always smooth sailing. In fact, there are certain points along these routes that pose a risk to the whole system.

Here’s a look at the world’s most vulnerable maritime bottlenecks—also known as choke points—as identified by GIS.

What’s a Choke Point?

Choke points are strategic, narrow passages that connect two larger areas to one another. When it comes to maritime trade, these are typically straits or canals that see high volumes of traffic because of their optimal location.

Despite their convenience, these vital points pose several risks:

  • Structural risks: As demonstrated in the recent Suez Canal blockage, ships can crash along the shore of a canal if the passage is too narrow, causing traffic jams that can last for days.
  • Geopolitical risks: Because of their high traffic, choke points are particularly vulnerable to blockades or deliberate disruptions during times of political unrest.

The type and degree of risk varies, depending on location. Here’s a look at some of the biggest threats, at eight of the world’s major choke points.

maritime choke point risks

Because of their high risk, alternatives for some of these key routes have been proposed in the past—for instance, in 2013 Nicaraguan Congress approved a $40 billion dollar project proposal to build a canal that was meant to rival the Panama Canal.

As of today, it has yet to materialize.

A Closer Look: Key Maritime Choke Points

Despite their vulnerabilities, these choke points remain critical waterways that facilitate international trade. Below, we dive into a few of the key areas to provide some context on just how important they are to global trade.

The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that provides a shortcut for ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ships sailing between the east and west coasts of the U.S. save over 8,000 nautical miles by using the canal—which roughly shortens their trip by 21 days.

In 2019, 252 million long tons of goods were transported through the Panama Canal, which generated over $2.6 billion in tolls.

The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is an Egyptian waterway that connects Europe to Asia. Without this route, ships would need to sail around Africa, which would add approximately seven days to their trips. In 2019, nearly 19,000 vessels, and 1 billion tons of cargo, traveled through the Suez Canal.

In an effort to mitigate risk, the Egyptian government embarked on a major expansion project for the canal back in 2015. But, given the recent blockage caused by a Taiwanese container ship, it’s clear that the waterway is still vulnerable to obstruction.

The Strait of Malacca

At its smallest point, the Strait of Malacca is approximately 1.5 nautical miles, making it one of the world’s narrowest choke points. Despite its size, it’s one of Asia’s most critical waterways, since it provides a critical connection between China, India, and Southeast Asia. This choke point creates a risky situation for the 130,000 or so ships that visit the Port of Singapore each year.

The area is also known to have problems with piracy—in 2019, there were 30 piracy incidents, according to private information group ReCAAP ISC.

The Strait of Hormuz

Controlled by Iran, the Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, ultimately draining into the Arabian Sea. It’s a primary vein for the world’s oil supply, transporting approximately 21 million barrels per day.

Historically, it’s also been a site of regional conflict. For instance, tankers and commercial ships were attacked in that area during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is another primary waterway for the world’s oil and natural gas. Nestled between Africa and the Middle East, the critical route connects the Mediterranean Sea (via the Suez Canal) to the Indian Ocean.

Like the Strait of Malacca, it’s well known as a high-risk area for pirate attacks. In May 2020, a UK chemical tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen–the ninth pirate attack in the area that year.

Due to the strategic nature of the region, there is a strong military presence in nearby Djibouti, including China’s first ever foreign military base.

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