Countries With the Most Seismic Activity

April 15, 2018

Damage after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

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Many of us can recall from grade school that seismic activity occurs when two or more tectonic plates move relative to one another. Although that movement is a regular feature of the Earth’s life, humans notice it when the movement produces an earthquake that has enough force to disrupt life on the ground.

In the worst case, entire cities can be destroyed, causing extensive damage and loss of life. Because of their location relative to tectonic boundaries, some countries and regions experience far more seismic activity than others.


In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan’s history, killed over 15,000 people and triggered a nuclear meltdown. Despite the severity of that traumatic event, Japan is no stranger to seismic activity. Even the internationally used word “tsunami” comes from the Japanese word for harbor wave, which is caused by deep sea tectonic movement. Minor tremors are recorded in Japan on a daily basis, and geologists record around 1,500 earthquakes there every year.


The world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalayans, are primarily located in Nepal. The mountains actually grow a few millimeters each year because the Indian subcontinent continuously pushes its way toward the Asian mainland, forcing the land in between ever higher. As a result, Nepal is at the center of one of the most active seismic zones in the world. In 2015, a devastating earthquake killed 9,000 people and injured tens of thousands more. Because of the country’s rugged terrain, Nepal’s 28 million people are highly concentrated in a few areas, exacerbating the human toll when an earthquake strikes.


Located at the boundary of the Nazca Plate and South American Plate, Ecuador regularly experiences seismic activity. In addition to earthquakes, the meeting of the plates has resulted in 27 potentially active volcanoes in the country, which can produce their own consequences for human settlement. Both the coast and the high-altitude interior of the country regularly experience tremors and earthquakes, including over 50 that were recorded in the period between late 2017 and early 2018. An earthquake of magnitude 4 or 5 is a regular feature of life in Ecuador.


Turkey is located at the intersection of three tectonic plates: the Anatolian, the Eurasian, and the Arabian. Two major fault lines run through the heart of the country, including through the heavily populated Istanbul metropolitan region. As a result, massive earthquakes strike once every few years, and smaller quakes are recorded every week or so throughout the year. The last major earthquake was in 2011, 600 people lost their lives and thousands more became homeless. Turkey also feels the effects of earthquakes in nearby Iraq and Syria that are also located along major fault lines.


Indonesia is located at the meeting point of two continental tectonic plates and two oceanic plates, making it one of the most active seismic zones in the world. In addition to frequent earthquakes, there are 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia, and over five million people who live in the danger zone of an eruption. The country averages more than one earthquake a day throughout the year and is also prone to devastating tsunamis. In 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused a tsunami that struck the country’s northwest, killing over 240,000 people.