While this list does feature the strongest earthquakes by magnitude so far, records only started in 1500! So anything before that (which could have been considerable stronger) are not recorded. But that doesn’t mean these ten are any less destructive…
The Top Ten Strongest Earthquakes by Magnitude So Far
10 – The Ecuador–colombia Earthquake in 1906 – Magnitude: 8.8
Info: The 1906 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake occurred at 15:36 UTC on January 31, off the coast of Ecuador, near Esmeraldas. The earthquake had a moment magnitude of 8.8 and triggered a destructive tsunami that caused at least 500 casualties on the coast of Colombia. The greatest damage from the tsunami occurred on the coast between Río Verde, Ecuador and Micay, Colombia. Estimates of the number of deaths caused by the tsunami vary between 500 and 1,500.
9 – The Sumatra Earthquake in 1833 – Magnitude: 8.8
Info: The 1833 Sumatra earthquake occurred on November 25 at about 22:00 local time, with an estimated magnitude in the range of 8.8–9.2 Mw. It caused a large tsunami that flooded the southwestern coast of the island. There are no reliable records of the loss of life, with the casualties being described only as ‘numerous’. The magnitude of this event has been estimated using records of uplift taken from coral microatolls.
8 – The Arakan Earthquake in 1762 – Magnitude: 8.8
Info: The 1762 Arakan earthquake occurred at about 17:00 local time on 2 April, with an epicentre somewhere on the coast from Chittagong to Arakan in modern Burma. It had an estimated magnitude of as high as 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale and a maximum estimated intensity of XI on the Mercalli intensity scale. It triggered a local tsunami in the Bay of Bengal and caused at least 200 deaths.
7 – The Cascadia Earthquake in 1700 – Magnitude: 8.9
Info: The most important clue linking the tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in the Pacific Northwest comes from studies of tree rings which show that several “ghost forests” of red cedar trees in Oregon and Washington, killed by lowering of coastal forests into the tidal zone by the earthquake, have outermost growth rings that formed in 1699, the last growing season before the tsunami. This includes both inland stands of trees, such as one on the Copalis River in Washington and pockets of tree stumps that are now under the ocean surface and become exposed only at low tide.
6 – The Arica Earthquake in 1868 – Magnitude: 9.0
Info: The 1868 Arica earthquake occurred on 13 August 1868, near Arica, then part of Peru, now part of Chile, at 21:30 UTC. It had an estimated magnitude between 8.5 and 9.0. A tsunami in the Pacific Ocean was produced by the earthquake, which was recorded in Hawaii, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
5 – The Kamchatka Earthquake in 1952 – Magnitude: 9.0
Info: The 1952 Severo-Kurilsk earthquake was a 9.0 Mw earthquake that struck off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The earthquake triggered a major tsunami that hit Severo-Kurilsk, Kuril Islands, Sakhalin Oblast, Russian SFSR, USSR, on 5 November 1952 at about 5 a.m. This led to the destruction of many settlements in Sakhalin Oblast and Kamchatka Oblast, while the main impact struck the town of Severo-Kurilsk.
4 – The Tōhoku Earthquake in 2011 – Magnitude: 9.1
Info: It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.The earthquake moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) 2.4 m (8 ft) east, shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10 cm (4 in) and 25 cm (10 in) increased the earth’s rotational speed by 1.8 µs per day and generated infrasound waves detected in perturbations of the low-orbiting GOCE satellite!
3 – The Indian Ocean Earthquake in 2004 – Magnitude: 9.1
Info: The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than US$14 billion (2004) in humanitarian aid. The event is known by the scientific community as the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake. The resulting tsunami was given various names, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, South Asian tsunami, Indonesian tsunami, Christmas tsunami and the Boxing Day tsunami.
2 – The Alaska Earthquake in 1964 – Magnitude: 9.2
Info: Lasting four minutes and thirty-eight seconds, the magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake was the most powerful recorded in North American history, and the second most powerful recorded in world history. 600 miles of fault ruptured at once, and moved up to 60 feet. Soil liquefaction, fissures, landslides, and other ground failures caused major structural damage in several communities and much damage to property.
1 – The Valdivia Earthquake in 1960 – Magnitude: 9.6
Info: The epicentre of this megathrust earthquake was near Lumaco, approximately 570 kilometres (350 mi) south of Santiago, with Valdivia being the most affected city. The tremor caused localised tsunamis that severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 25 metres (82 ft). The main tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean and devastated Hilo, Hawaii. Waves as high as 10.7 metres (35 ft) were recorded 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) from the epicentre and as far away as Japan and the Philippines.