Which Country Has the Most Earthquakes, and Why?

Written by Dayva Segal
Published: October 7, 2022
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Earthquakes occur worldwide when fault lines along the edges of tectonic plates release energy from the earth’s molten center. Since they occur along these faults, they are more likely to happen in some places. For example, people in the United States associate the state of California with earthquakes, but not the state of New York.

The Pacific Ring of Fire is an incredibly active area of tectonic and seismic action framing the Pacific Ocean. There are volcanic belts, areas with a lot of volcanoes, oceanic trenches, where one plate is slowly moving underneath another, and other geologic formations that contribute to the high rate of seismic activity. It is no surprise that many of the countries with the most seismic activity are along the Pacific Ring of Fire since that area is where 81% of the world’s earthquakes occur.

So, Which Country Has the Most Earthquakes?

This answer isn’t as straightforward as you would think. It depends on how you quantify “the most.”

Most Recorded Earthquakes

Japan has a very dense seismic network. These types of networks consist of separate stations that work together to collect data about earthquakes in a region. Because of its technical capabilities, Japan records the most earthquakes of any country.

The earliest recorded earthquake in Japan was in 684. In November of that year, there was a large quake estimated to be magnitude 8.4. During this earthquake, scientists of the day realized that tsunamis and earthquakes were related.

Nowadays, Japan has a very sophisticated earthquake and tsunami warning system. It gives people a few seconds’ warning before an earthquake starts to take cover. In the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, people received a warning between five and 40 seconds before the earthquake hit, depending on which city they were in. They also had a warning of anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes before the first tsunami waves struck. This likely saved many lives.

Japan has a lot of earthquakes because of its location. It is located right on top of four tectonic plates. It is where the North American, Eurasian, Philippines, and Pacific plates converge. The Pacific Plate moves west about 3.5 inches each year, causing some major earthquakes in Japan. However, the other plates also have the potential to cause earthquakes, leading to a high number.

Which Country Has the Most Earthquakes, and Why?

People received a warning between five and 40 seconds before the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake hit.

©AB-DESIGN/Shutterstock.com

Most Total Earthquakes

Experts believe that Indonesia may be the country that actually has the most earthquakes in the world. It has a similar rate of seismic activity to Japan but is larger, meaning more space for earthquakes to occur. However, the country does not have as dense of a seismic network, meaning that many smaller earthquakes do not get recorded.

Indonesia is well known for the 2004 earthquake and following tsunami that was so devastating. Since the year 2000, they have had over 20 earthquakes of magnitude 7.3 or above. Since the year 1900, they have had more than 150 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and above.

In 2018, a 7.5 earthquake occurred and the tsunami warning was lifted after 30 minutes. However, a tsunami hit Palu, a seaside community, and destroyed buildings. People wondered how this could have happened since Indonesia also has a Tsunami Early Warning System. However, Japan’s system is made up of over 1,000 seismic stations, while Indonesia only had about 170 of them as of 2018. In that year, it was also reported that the agency maintaining them only has a budget to maintain 70 of the stations.

Similar to Japan, Indonesia is located at the convergence of multiple tectonic plates: the Indo-Australian Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the Eurasian Plate. This country typically has at least three earthquakes per day because of this, though many of the daily earthquakes are small.

2011 Tohoku Earthquake

About 170,000 people were killed in the

2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

which struck the Indonesian province of Sumatra.

©Frans Delian/Shutterstock.com

Most Earthquakes Per Square Mile

Scientists also believe that Indonesia may have the top spot for earthquakes per square mile. However, they are not fully certain for the same reason listed above: a lack of sensitive earthquake recording equipment.

Other Earthquake Superlatives

The number of earthquakes isn’t the only thing we can measure. There are plenty of other factors to determine what countries have the most severe earthquakes.

Most Deadly Earthquakes

China covers a huge area of land. In the middle ages, powerful earthquakes leveled several cities. In 1976, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake killed over 300,000 people in the Tangshan region of China. It is one of the deadliest natural disasters to ever hit China.

China seems to have the deadliest earthquakes. Earthquake deaths from this Asian country represent about half of all earthquake deaths. Between 1900 and 2016 nearly 1 million people died in earthquakes in China.

China’s east coast is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and its south-western border is on the Circum-Pacific seismic belt. Both areas have complex tectonic plate activities leading to activity in every single province of China except a few.

Most Expensive Earthquakes

Japan has the most in this category as well. The two most expensive earthquakes in the world both happened in Japan. The first was the 2011 9.1 quake that devastated the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. The second was the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Most Powerful Earthquake

A 1960 earthquake in Valdivia, Chile was rated 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale, the scale that is most often used to measure earthquakes. For reference, a 9.0 earthquake releases energy equivalent to 99,000,000 tons of the explosive TNT! This is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on earth.

Since the 1570s, Chile has had over 25 earthquakes above a magnitude 8.0. Many of them caused tsunamis with devastating results. Now, Chile has an advanced warning system for earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and above, and a tsunami warning system that can help people escape before a devastating wave strikes.

Chile’s coast is right on the edge of the South American Plate and the Nazca Plate. These two plates grind together and cause earthquakes.

Other Earthquake Prone Countries

There are many countries that don’t have quite as many earthquakes as Japan or Indonesia.

Iran

Though it is not located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Iran regularly experiences earthquakes. Major fault lines cover about 90% of this Middle Eastern country. Strong earthquakes have been reported there since ancient times. In 2017 a 7.3 magnitude earthquake killed over 600 people in the Kermanshah region. In 2022, there have already been 7 earthquakes in Iran above magnitude 4.0.

Turkey

Turkey also has a long history of earthquakes dating back to before the common era. In the year 115 a huge earthquake killed around 250,000 people in the Antioch area of the country. As recently as 2020 The Izmir region was struck by a 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 100 people.

United States

Many people associate the West Coast of the US with earthquakes. However, the US is extremely large and has a lot of territories across the globe that contribute to its earthquake numbers. The strongest earthquakes in the US generally occur in Alaska. California also has quite a few, followed by Oregon.

However, don’t rule out other states! In 1811 a magnitude 7.5-8.0 earthquake struck Missouri. It scared the few European colonists there and had significant meaning to the Native American tribes in the area. It is also not unheard of to experience earthquakes in Idaho, Montana, Texas, and Nevada. However, earthquakes have also happened in New York, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma!

Find Out More…

Learn more about earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Frans Delian/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Dayva is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering astrology, animals, and geography. She has over 12 years of experience as a writer, and graduated from Hofstra University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Music and a Minor in French. She has also completed course work in Core Strengths Coaching, Hypnotherapy, and Technical Communication. Dayva lives in the SF Bay Area with her cute but very shy cat, Tula.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Which country has the most recorded earthquakes?

Japan records the most earthquakes of any country.

Which country has the most frequent earthquakes?

Experts believe that Indonesia may be the country that actually has the most earthquakes in the world. It has a similar rate of seismic activity to Japan but is larger, meaning more space for earthquakes to occur. However, the country does not have as dense of a seismic network, meaning that many smaller earthquakes do not get recorded.

Why does Japan have so many earthquakes

Japan has a lot of earthquakes because of its location. It is located right on top of four tectonic plates. It is where the North American, Eurasian, Philippines, and Pacific plates converge. The Pacific Plate moves west about 3.5 inches each year, causing some major earthquakes in Japan. However, the other plates also have the potential to cause earthquakes, leading to a high number.

Which country has the most earthquakes per square mile?

Indonesia likely has the most earthquakes per square mile.

Which country has the most deadly earthquakes?

China has the deadliest earthquakes. Earthquake deaths from this Asian country represent about half of all earthquake deaths. Between 1900 and 2016 nearly 1 million people died in earthquakes in China.

Which country has the most expensive earthquakes?

The two most expensive earthquakes in the world both happened in Japan.

Which country had the most powerful earthquake?

A 1960 earthquake in Valdivia, Chile was rated 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. This is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
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  4. , Available here: https://quantectum.com/blog/the-world%E2%80%99s-most-earthquake-prone-areas-and-countries/
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  6. , Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_earthquakes_in_Iran
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