Encyclopedia of Solid Earth Geophysics

Living Edition
| Editors: Harsh K. Gupta

Earthquakes, Intensity

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-10475-7_23-1



The intensity, or macroseismic intensity, represents a classification of the severity of ground-motion shaking during an earthquake on the basis of observed effects at a given place (Grünthal et al. 1998). The word “macroseismic” refers to perceptible effects of earthquakes as opposed to instrumental observations.

Macroseismic Scales and Intensity Assignment

Earthquake intensities are defined in macroseismic scales. Since the early twentieth century, they usually contain 12 intensity degrees with the prominent exception of the seven degree Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) scale (later upgraded to ten degrees). Earthquakes generate different intensities at different places, generally decreasing with distance from the epicenter. The epicentral intensity can be used in combination with the hypocentral depth as a classification of earthquake strength – with restrictions for large earthquakes (M ≥ 7) with extensive fault planes.

Although not a...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Atkinson GM, Wald DJ (2007) “Did you feel it?” intensity data: a surprisingly good measure of earthquake ground motion. Seismol Res Lett 78(3):362–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bakun WH, Wentworth CM (1997) Estimating earthquake location and magnitude from seismic intensity data. Bull Seismol Soc Am 87(6):1502–1521Google Scholar
  3. Cancani A (1904) Sur l’emploi d’une double échelle sismique des intensités, empirique et absolute. Beiträge zur Geophysik, Ergänzungsband (supplementary volume) 2, Verhandlungen der zweiten internationalen seismologischen Konferenz, Annex A10, 2:281–283Google Scholar
  4. Faccioli E, Cauzzi C (2006) Macroseismic intensities for seismic scenarios, estimated from instrumentally based correlations. In: Abstract Book 1st ECEES, p 125. http://www.ecees.org/abstracts_book.pdf
  5. Faenza L, Michelini A (2010) Regression analysis of MCS intensity and ground motion parameters in Italy and its application in ShakeMap. Geophys J Int 180(3):1138–1152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Frankel A (1994) Implications of felt area-magnitude relations for earthquake scaling and the average frequency of perceptible ground motion. Bull Seismol Soc Am 84(2):462–465Google Scholar
  7. Gasperini P, Bernardini F, Valensise G, Boschi E (1999) Defining seismogenic sources from historical earthquake felt reports. Bull Seismol Soc Am 89(1):94–110Google Scholar
  8. Gibson G, Wesson V, Jones T (1995) Strong motion from shallow intraplate earthquakes, Pacific Conference on Earthquake Engineering, 20–22 Nov 1995. Proceedings, pp 185–193Google Scholar
  9. Gomez Copera AA (2006) Seismic hazard map for the Italian territory using macroseismic data. Earth Sci Res J 10(2):67–90Google Scholar
  10. Grünthal G (1984) Seismische Gefährdung. In: Hurtig E, Stiller H (eds) Erdbeben und Erdbebengefährdung. Akademie Verlag, Berlin, pp 169–238Google Scholar
  11. Grünthal G (ed), Musson RMW, Schwarz J, Stucchi M (assoc eds) (1993) European Macroseismic Scale 1992 (up-dated MSK scale). Cahiers du Centre Européen de Géodynamique et de Séismologie 7, Centre Européen de Géodynamique et de Séismologie, Luxembourg, 77 ppGoogle Scholar
  12. Grünthal G (ed), Musson RMW, Schwarz J, Stucchi M (assoc eds) (1998) European Macroseismic Scale 1998 (EMS-98). Cahiers du Centre Européen de Géodynamique et de Séismologie 15, Centre Européen de Géodynamique et de Séismologie, Luxembourg, 99 pp.  https://doi.org/10.2312/EMS-98. http://www.gfz-potsdam.de/EMS98
  13. Grünthal G, Wahlström R, Stromeyer D (2009) Harmonization check of Mw within the central, northern, and northwestern European earthquake catalogue (CENEC). J Seismol 13(4):613–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gutenberg B, Richter CF (1942) Earthquake magnitude, intensity, energy and acceleration. Bull Seismol Soc Am 32:163–191Google Scholar
  15. Gutenberg B, Richter CF (1956) Earthquake magnitude, intensity, energy and acceleration (Second Paper). Bull Seismol Soc Am 46:105–145Google Scholar
  16. Housner GW (1961) Vibration of structures induced by seismic waves, shock and vibration handbook. McGraw Hill, New York, pp 1–32Google Scholar
  17. Howell BF Jr, Schultz TR (1975) Attenuation of modified Mercalli intensity with distance from the epicenter. Bull Seismol Soc Am 65(3):651–655Google Scholar
  18. Jánosi v I (1907) Bearbeitung der makroseismischen Erdbeben auf Grund der “Cancanischen Gleichung,” Technical report, K. u. K. Reichsanstalt für Meteorologie und Erdmagnetismus, BudapestGoogle Scholar
  19. Japanese Meteorological Agency (1996) Explanation table of JMA seismic intensity scale. http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/kishou/know/shindo/explane.html
  20. Johnston AC (1996) Seismic moment assessment of earthquakes in stable continental regions – II. Historical seismicity. Geophys J Int 125(3):639–678CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Karim KR, Yamazaki F (2002) Correlation of JMA instrumental seismic intensity with strong motion parameters. Earthq Eng Struct Dyn 31(5):1191–1212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kövesligethy R (1906) A makroszeizmikus rengések feldolgozása. Math és Természettudományi Értesítõ 24:349–368Google Scholar
  23. Kuwata Y, Takada S (2002) Instantaneous instrumental seismic intensity and evacuation. J Nat Dis Sci 24(1):35–42Google Scholar
  24. Medvedev SV, Sponheuer W, Kárník V (1965a) Seismic intensity scale MSK-64. UNESCO digital library, NS/SEISM/28, WS/0565.43 AVS, Paris. https://unesco.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000154508
  25. Medvedev SV, Sponheuer W, Kárník V (1965b) Seismische Intensitätsskala MSK 1964. In: Sponheuer W (ed) Bericht über die Weiterentwicklung der seismischen Skala, vol 8. Veröff. Institut für Geodynamik Jena, Berlin, pp 12–21Google Scholar
  26. Musson RWM (1993) Macroseismic magnitude and depth for British earthquakes. BGS Global Seismology Report no. WL/ 93/13Google Scholar
  27. Musson RMW (2000) Intensity-based seismic risk assessment. Soil Dyn Earthq Eng 20:353–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Musson RMW (2006) Automatic assessment of EMS-98 intensities. British Geological Survey, Seismology and Geomagnetic Programme, Internal Report IR/06/048, 16 ppGoogle Scholar
  29. Musson RMW, Cecić I (2002) Macroseismology. In: Lee WHK, Kanamori H, Jennings PC, Kisslinger C (eds) International handbook of earthquake and engineering seismology. Academic, San Diego, pp 807–822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Musson RWM, Grünthal G, Stucchi M (2010) The comparison of macroseismic intensity scales. J Seismol 14(2):413–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Omori F (1900) Seismic experiments on the fracturing and overturning of columns. Publ Earthq Invest Comm Foreign Lang 4:69–141Google Scholar
  32. Richter CF (1958) Elementary seismology. A series of books in geology. Freeman, San Francisco. 768 ppGoogle Scholar
  33. Sieberg A (1912) Über die makroseismische Bestimmung der Erdbebenstärke. Gerlands Beiträge zur Geophysik 11:227–239Google Scholar
  34. Sieberg A (1923) Geologische, physikalische und angewandte Erdbebenkunde. G. Fischer, JenaGoogle Scholar
  35. Sieberg A (1932) Geologie der Erdbeben. Handbuch der Geophysik 2(4):550–555Google Scholar
  36. Sponheuer W (1960) Methoden zur Herdtiefenbestimmung in der Makroseismik. Freiberger Forschungshefte C 88, Geophysik. Akademieverlag Berlin, 117 ppGoogle Scholar
  37. Stover CW, Coffman JL (1993) Seismicity of the United States, 1568–1989 (revised), U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Prof. Pap. 1527, 418 ppGoogle Scholar
  38. Stromeyer D, Grünthal G (2009) Attenuation relationship of macroseismic intensities in Central Europe. Bull Seismol Soc Am 99(2A):554–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tyagunov S, Grünthal G, Wahlström R, Stempniewski L, Zschau J (2006) Seismic risk mapping for Germany. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 6(4):573–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vogt J, Musson RMW, Stucchi M (1994) Seismological and hydrological criteria for the new European macroseismic scale (MSK-92). Nat Hazards 10:1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wald DF, Quiroriano V, Heaton TH, Kanamori H (1999a) Relationships between peak ground acceleration, peak ground velocity, and modified Mercalli intensity in California. Earthquake Spectra 15(3):557–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wald DF, Quitoriano V, Dengler LA, Dewey JW (1999b) Utilization of the internet for rapid community intensity maps. Seismol Res Lett 70(1):680–697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wald DF, Quitoriano V, Heaton TH, Kanamori H, Scrivner CW, Worden CB (1999c) TriNet “shake maps”: rapid generation of peak ground motion and intensity maps for earthquake in southern California. Earthquake Spectra 15(3):537–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wood HO, Neumann F (1931) Modified Mercalli intensity scale of 1931. Bull Seismol Soc Am 21:277–283Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Helmholtz Centre PotsdamGerman Research Centre for Geosciences GFZPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.University of Edinburgh and British Geological SurveyEdinburghUK