Is there a difference between earthquakes and tremors? Let us clarify what an earthquake is and what a tremor is. In this article, we will explain the difference between earthquakes and tremors.
What is the difference between Earthquakes and Tremors?
Seismic occurrences, no matter how slight, always have an influence, not just locally but also globally. This impact is most likely connected to the unpredictability of seismic occurrences and how terrible the repercussions might be depending on the size of the events and the vulnerability of the impacted places.
Precisely, as earthquake occurrences become more newsworthy in the media throughout the world, a lot of odd phrases enter our everyday lexicon, which, if we are not aware of them, might cause bewilderment.
To minimize misunderstanding, we want to define the difference between earthquakes and tremors, so that the next time you hear some of these phrases, you will be able to distinguish them.
What is a earthquake?
To properly distinguish the words and find the difference between earthquakes and tremors, let us begin with the notion of an earthquake.
The term “earthquake” is derived from Latin and means “earth movement.” An earthquake is described in theory as a quick and temporary vibration or movement of the earth’s crust generated by internal forces.
The magnitude, or strength, of an earthquake can be used to quantify it. The Richter scale, or local magnitude scale (M), is a regularly used scale that, as the name implies, allows the magnitude of an earthquake to be quantified. Earthquakes are categorised into three types based on their size:
- Very Small: size less than 2, they are imperceptible.
- Small: their size ranges between 2 and 3.9, and they are practically imperceptible.
- Light: size ranges between 4 and 4.9, noticeable in the movement of objects. usually causes no damage.
- Moderate: magnitude between 5 and 5.9, may cause structural damage depending on the quality of buildings.
- Strong: magnitude between 6 and 6.9, causing significant damage in large areas.
- Large: magnitude range of 7 to 7.9, causing severe damage to large areas.
- Epic: magnitude ranged from 8 to 9.9, causing catastrophic damage over a very large area.
- Legendary: magnitude greater than 10. Fortunately, earthquakes of this magnitude have never been recorded.
Although not part of the idea of an earthquake, the term “earthquake” is widely used colloquially to refer to seismic activity with a magnitude greater than 7.5, i.e., those defined as big, epic, and legendary in the previous paragraph.
In turn, the word “earthquake” is frequently used when seismic activity has resulted in injuries or even deaths, as well as other negative consequences, such as damage to buildings and infrastructure.
But there is a slight difference between earthquakes and tremors or sismos. Keep reading to find out more details.
You may read this other article about earthquakes to learn more about what they are, how they happen, and what sorts there are.
What is a sismo?
Now that we have learned what an earthquake is, we can continue with the concept of sismos. First of all, it is worth clarifying that in Latin America the word “sismo” is used, which comes from the Greek and means “to shake”.
According to science, an earthquake is defined as an earthquake, i.e., the sudden movement of the earth’s crust. Consequently, the two words are synonymous, and conceptually, both “earthquake” and “sismo” can be used interchangeably.
However, there is a small but noticeable difference that is not conceptual but rather colloquial. This difference is based on the amount of movement of the earth’s crust. So, when is an sismo and when is an earthquake?
When seismic activity has a magnitude greater than 7.5, we usually use the term “earthquake,” while when seismic activity has a magnitude between about 4 and 7, we usually use the term “earthquake.”
This notable difference in colloquialism in magnitude, however, also brings about differences in the consequences of seismic activity. As a general rule of thumb, it can be concluded that in seismic activities of smaller magnitude, the consequences after the seismic event will be smaller.
As a result, earthquakes are often associated with seismic events that do not cause property and economic damage or loss of life.
What is a tremor?
Finally, let’s see what the word “tremor” means. As with the meaning of sismo,science defines the term temblor as an earthquake or shaking of the earth’s crust. Therefore, conceptually, the three terms are synonymous, and you can use any of them when you want to refer to a seismic event.
However, here too, there is a slight difference in colloquialism and, as in the previous case, this difference is also related to the magnitude of the seismic event. The term tremors, in particular, is used to refer to low-magnitude vibrations or movements of the earth’s crust.
Thus, considering only the magnitude of the vibration, tremors are closer to earthquakes than earthquakes are, and colloquially, both tremors and earthquakes are often used as synonyms.
Now that you’ve learned all these details about the difference between earthquakes and tremors, if you want to delve deeper into the topic of seismic and volcanic activity as they relate to each other, we recommend you read these other posts on how volcanoes are formed and all about volcanology.
If you want to read more articles about the difference between earthquakes and tremors, we recommend you go to our ecology category.