2012: Major Earthquakes but Relatively Few Deaths


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Deaths From Earthquakes in 2012


Iran’s M6.4 earthquake was the year’s most deadly. Image credit: NASA

The planet’s population escaped lightly in 2012.

While most previous years have seen high death tolls as a result of earthquakes and tsunamis, the number of casualties for 2012 is estimated at just 768, most occurring following an M6.4 in north-western Iran in August.

This compares favourably with the last few years. In 2011 there were almost 22,000 deaths, mostly in Japan as a result of the Tohoku earthquake.

In 2010 there were 320,000 deaths, mostly in Haiti, and in 2008 there were 88,000, deaths mainly in China.

United States 2012 Earthquakes

Although certain areas of the United States – most notably Alaska and California – continued to experience large numbers of small earthquakes, the US did not experience any major or damaging tremors in 2012.

The largest recorded, an M6.4 off Alaska, did not compare with the Sumatran events – the earthquake scale is logarithmic so though three orders of magnitude smaller, it appeared 1000 times smaller on a seismogram and was around 30,000 times smaller in terms of energy released.

California’s largest tremor was an M6.3 which occurred in December, though this was not associated with the San Andreas fault zone. Elsewhere the US experienced relatively large intra-plate earthquakes as a result of local faulting within a number of states including Texas (M4.8), Kentucky (M4.2), Oklahoma (M4.1) and Utah (M4.1). A volcano-related tremor of M4.8 struck in Hawaii.

2012 Earthquakes

Although the year certainly saw its expected share of large earthquakes in terms of magnitude, there have been remarkably few lives lost in 2012. The reduced mortality was largely due to the absence of either a single, devastating event, or an event striking in an area which was unprepared.


United States Geological Survey. Earthquake Information by Year. (2013). Accessed January 1, 2013.

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