Is the message getting through?

I was interested to see the following entry in the “Corrections” column of yesterday’s Guardian.

A report on environmental pressure groups calling on governments to abandon new nuclear power stations and large waste dump projects referred to tremors in India ranging up to 6.3 on the Richter scale. Seismologists no longer use this [...]

Why some tsunamis are worse than others at distance

An article on tsunamis on the BGS web page attracted a comment on Facebook raising the question as to whether the main tsunami threat to Britian might be from a flank collapse in the Canary Islands, not mentioned in the posted article.

To explain why such an event would be unlikely to pose much of a [...]


I gave a talk at the Festival of Science in Birmingham last week, largely reporting on the new Archive of Historical Earthquake Data (AHEAD) as a resource for studying past earthquakes. One of the relevances is that an earthquake that has occurred once (or twice) in the historical record can reasonably be expected to recur [...]

Magnitude and energy

One question that crops up from time to time from the public and the media is why the magnitude scale is dimensionless. Why do we not talk about an earthquake of being “4.5 Richters” in size? Today I came across a paper written by Richter in 1965 which I had not seen before, entitled “Historical [...]

A new approach to seismic risk

One of the problems with handling seismic risk for the broader community (public, politicians, etc) is that those who do the calculations (the seismologists) tend to speak a different language from those who are supposed to be receiving the benefit. In particular, seismologists handle risk (a) numerically, and (b) probabilistically. This is fine for the [...]

More terminological cacophony

I recently came across a document using the initials IBGMPE – for “intensity-based ground motion prediction equation”. Comment on the inappropriateness of “prediction equations” will be found in a previous post – but “intensity-based ground motion”? What is that, but intensity itself? Four words where one will do!

ESC now and 40 years ago

The programme for the 2010 General Assembly of the European Seismological Commission at Montpellier is now available from the conference web site.

It’s interesting to compare it to the programme for the 1970 General Assembly, held in Luxembourg, forty years ago.  Apart from the Gestetner printing, one obvious difference is that it’s in French! I would [...]

Safety valves

The fullest account of the impending prosecution over the L’Aquila quake that I’ve seen so far is on the Nature web site.

Most of the web traffic that I’ve seen has been strongly supportive of the seismologists in the case, though one issue that has been raised is whether it was said by anyone that “there [...]

The L’Aquila affair

Many posts and emails have been exchanged regarding the recent decision in Italy to press charges of gross negligent manslaughter against several seismologists for failing to provide adequate warning of the destructive earthquake that hit the city of L’Aquila on 6 April last year, with the loss of over 300 lives. Two examples of the [...]


A filing cabinet drawer full of old papers was delivered to me on Friday for sorting. It turned out to be mostly stuff from the early 1970s.  When it comes to deciding whether to keep things or throw them away, my archivist’s instinct is, when in doubt, keep. However, one can’t keep everything, and when [...]