Historic Nepal Earthquake Hit Just Before National Richter Scale Day

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Apr 272015

Charles-Francis-Richter - Richter's Scale, Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man, by Susan Elizabeth Hough

The death toll reached nearly 4,400 persons on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 to over 5,000 casualties on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 to finally well over 8,000 persons eventually died with more than 21,000 injured, resulting from a historically devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter Scale that hit Nepal on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 11:56 pm local time, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Only the death tolls of Shansi, China’s January 23, 1556 earthquake, reaching 833,000, and more recently of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, reaching over 230,000, are historically most devastating (see Appendix of this piece for more information on the deadliest earthquakes of 50,000 or more on record, according to the National Earthquake Information Center and the U.S. Geological Survey).

So far, more than 8 million people have been affected by lack of communications, food, water, shelter, and humanitarian services as a result of Saturday’s earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley. Over 600,000 homes were destroyed with more than 300,000 houses were partially damaged, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

Coincidentally, the Nepal earthquake hit a day before National Richter Scale Day on Sunday, April 26th, honoring the California Institute of Technology inventor of the scale, Charles F. Richter (see Susan Elizabeth Hough’s book, “Richter’s Scale, Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man“)


Recorded as the worst quake to hit Nepal since 1934, which nearly destroyed the Kathmandu Valley, Saturday’s quake depth (known as its hypo-center) was less than 10 miles and its epicenter was located about 50 miles from the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal. The Himalayan region is whereupon the Indian and Eurasian plates unite into one of the most active seismological geodetic areas of the world, according to the US Geological Survey.


Dozens of aftershocks, as high as 6.6 on the Richter Scale, have been reported from the Nepal earthquake felt all the way up to India, Tibet, and Bangladesh, wherein the official death toll now includes dozens more in these surrounding nations.

The death toll from Nepal’s earthquake rose to nearly 3,700 on Monday, up to over 4,400 on Tuesday, to so far over 5,000 casualties on Wednesday, four days after the massive quake ripped across this Himalayan nation on Saturday, leaving tens of thousands shell-shocked and sleeping in streets, according to the Associated Press. Currently, mass communications is down, and search and rescue efforts are being hampered, as more than 8 million people have been affected by Saturday’s earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley.

Nepal police said in a statement Monday that the country’s death toll had risen to 3,617 people, reports The Huffington Post. “That does not include the 18 people killed in the avalanche, which were counted by the mountaineering association. Another 61 people were killed in neighboring India, and China reported 20 people dead in Tibet.”

“Well over 1,000 of the victims were in Kathmandu, the capital, where an eerie calm prevailed on Monday.”

Nepal Earthquake Triggered Massive Avalanches on Mount Everest.

Remarkably, the earthquake caused avalanches on Mount Everest, where at least 18 people died and 61 persons injured following an avalanche on Mount Everest that was prompted by the quake, according to the Associated Press. Among the Mount Everest casualties was Google executive Dan Fredinburg, head of privacy for Google X, the company’s division devoted to cutting-edge technologies and experimentation.


“A new point-of-view video reveals the terrifying scene that unfolded as an avalanche tore through base camp at Mount Everest on Saturday, triggered by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal,” according to a recent report on Mashable.

“Shot by German climber Jost Kobusch, the footage shows that people at the camp had little forewarning that an avalanche was heading their way.”

“Tourism officials estimate that approximately 1,000 climbers were at base camp when the avalanche hit,” Mashable reports.


Ricardo Pena, a mountaineer from Broomfield, was leaving Mount Everest’s base camp as disaster unfolded up the trail.

“They were looking at the ice fall as the avalanche happened. So, he literally saw it with his own eyes. He heard the thundering of the avalanche,” Ricardo Pena’s brother Victor Pena told Denver CBS4.

Ricardo Pena has been training, trying to acclimate to the Nepalese altitude before his own climb. He was there as rescuers brought survivors from the avalanche field to medical tents.

Ricardo Pena called his family, relieved he was not on the mountain at the time.

“He sounded a little bit shell-shocked and he had seen things that he had never seen before,” Victor Pena said. “He did point out that he saw the fear in a couple of the Sherpas’ eyes.” 

Sherpa are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. They are threatening to boycott the climbing season altogether on Mount Everest. Only a few hundred people are allowed to summit Everest every year.

“Before outfits can resume their climb, sections of the path will need to be re-secured. Several large climbing companies have already pulled out of their plans to summit the mountain. There may be added pressure for everyone else to follow suit,” Denver CBS4 reports.

India TV News - Nepal Earthquake first picture out

Massive Devastation in the Kathmandu Valley.

“Several buildings collapsed in Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu, including the historic Dharahara Tower (as well as other centuries-old temples and heritage sites). The poor quality of buildings in the Kathmandu Valley, which has a population of 2.5 million people, makes them susceptible to extensive damage,” according to Mashable.


Government officials have designated 29 districts surrounding Kathmandu, Nepal as a state of emergency, including an international call for humanitarian aid and medical emergency services dispatched to the devastated region, affecting nearly 7 million surrounding the Kathmandu Valley, which is currently impacted by damaged buildings and huge amounts of rubble blocking transportation access of emergency vehicles and disaster relief teams to affected areas.


Tens of thousands of families slept outdoors for a second night, fearful of aftershocks from the Nepal quake that are ongoing. Recovery efforts from the Kathmandu Valley natural disaster are also stalled by dropping temperatures at night, 60 miles per hour winds, and heavy thunderstorms, falling upon scores of people without adequate food, clean water, warm shelter, and workable power and telephone lines, or operational digital and wireless communications.

Cropped -- nepal-earth-quake-44571

“Reports received so far by the government and aid groups suggest that many communities perched on mountainsides are devastated or struggling to cope,” The Huffington Post reports. Udav Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the Gorkha district, near the epicenter of Saturday’s quake, said he was in desperate need of help.

“There are people who are not getting food and shelter. I’ve had reports of villages where 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed,” he said.


Medical teams and rescue workers are overloaded with the injured, treating many in temporary health facilities erected outside on the streets in Kathmandu. The death toll continues to climb, as more human casualties are discovered (or better yet, human lives are saved as below) by disaster rescue workers underneath massive rubble from the quake.


International recovery efforts are currently underway with nearby India taking up a “lion-share” of the efforts. Jagdish Pokhrel, a Himalayan region central government army spokesman, said to The Huffington Post nearly the entire 100,000-soldier army was involved in rescue operations.

“We have 90 percent of the army out there working on search and rescue,” he said. “We are focusing our efforts on that, on saving lives.”

Mashable has “rounded up a list of organizations that are helping victims in Nepal and other affected areas, which you can support.”


Caltech’s Charles Francis Richter is Remembered When Earthquakes Occur Across The Globe.

National Richter Scale Day is “unofficially” observed annually on April 26th, honoring the birth of the Richter Scale inventor, Charles Francis Richter (April 26, 1900 – September 30, 1985).

Richter, an American seismologist and physicist, is most notable as the inventor of the Richter magnitude scale, which measured the magnitude and quantified the size of earthquakes.

While working at the California Institute of Technology, with German-born seismologist Beno Gutenberg, Richter first used the scale in a 1935 publication, wherein the Richter Scale immediately became the standard measure of earthquake intensity.

An interesting historical aside, acknowledging an immediate early reader of this post, Dr. Jochen Schrader, quality and project manager at SAP SE, and exploration geophysicists of oil, gas, and metals, in Mannheim, Germany, brings forth at this point a poignant enlightenment and commentary on the origins of the Richter-Gutenberg seismological research collaboration:

“Beno Gutenberg [was] maybe the equivalent of Albert Einstein in seismology, and a close collaborator of Charles Francis Richter at Caltech, since he arrived in California in 1930, after German colleagues denied [Gutenberg] the professorship at Gottingen, as the successor of [Gutenberg’s] teacher, Emil Wiechert (the founding father of modern seismology), [largely] because of [Gutenberg’s] Jewish background. The first time Gutenberg experienced an earthquake himself was at Caltech in Pasadena in 1933. However, he was in a very heated discussion with his friend Albert Einstein, so he simply didn’t notice the quake.”

Be that as it may, the United States Geological Service records show that the biggest earthquake since 1900, was in Chili on May 22, 1960. Measuring 9.5 on the Richter Scale, this natural disaster is known as the Great Chilean Earthquake. On January 23, 1556, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Shansi, China killing 830,000 people, the largest death tool resulting from an earthquake natural disaster in human history.

Richter was a pioneer in seismological research at a time when data on the size and location of earthquakes were scarce. He authored two textbooks that are still used as references in the field and are regarded by many scientists as his greatest contribution, exceeding the more popular Richter scale. Devoted to his work all his life, Richter at one time had a seismograph installed in his living room, and he welcomed queries about earthquakes at all hours.

According to Biography on Facebook, “Richter developed his scale to measure the strength of earthquakes in 1935. Earlier scales had been developed by de Rossi in the 1880s, and by Giuseppe Mercalli in 1902, but both used a descriptive scale defined in terms of damage to buildings and the behavior and response of the population. This restricted their use to the measurement of earthquakes in populated areas and made the scales relative to the type of building techniques and materials used.”

“Richter’s scale is an absolute one, based on the amplitude of the waves produced by the earthquake. He defined the magnitude of an earthquake as the logarithm to the base 10 of the maximum amplitude of the waves, measured in microns. This means that waves whose amplitudes differ by a factor of 100 will differ by 2 points on the Richter scale. With Beno Gutenberg he tried to convert the points on his scale into energy released. In 1956 they showed that magnitude 0 corresponds to about 1011 ergs (104 joules), while magnitude 9 equals 1024 ergs (1017 joules). A one unit increase will mean about 30 times more energy being released. The strongest earthquake so far recorded had a Richter-scale value of 8.6. In 1954 Richter and Gutenberg produced one of the basic textbooks on seismology, Seismicity of the Earth.”

Charles Francis Richter was born on April 26, 1900, on a farm near Hamilton, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, chronicles Biography on Facebook. His parents were divorced when he was very young. He grew up with his maternal grandfather, who moved the family to Los Angeles in 1909. Richter went to a preparatory school associated with the University of Southern California, where he spent his freshman year in college. He then transferred to Stanford University, where he earned an A.B. degree in physics in 1920.

Richter received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1928. That same year he married Lillian Brand of Los Angeles, a creative writing teacher. Robert A. Millikan, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and president of Caltech, had already offered Richter a job at the newly established Seismological Laboratory in Pasadena, then managed by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Thus, Richter started applying his physics background to the study of the earth, notes Biography on Facebook.

The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the Self … We cannot despair of humanity, since we are ourselves human beings. – Albert Einstein (1879-1955), American (German-born) physicist, Nobel Prize, 1921


Following is the 10 largest earthquakes since 1900 in terms of magnitude on the Richter Scale, according to the National Earthquake Information Center and the U.S. Geological Survey:

LocationDateMagnitude 2
1.ChileMay 22, 19609.5
2.Prince William Sound, AlaskaMarch 28, 1964 39.2
3.Andreanof Islands, Aleutian IslandsMarch 9, 19579.1
4.JapanMarch 11, 20119.0
5.KamchatkaNov. 4, 19529.0
6.Off western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia Dec. 26, 20049.0
7.Off the coast of EcuadorJan. 31, 19068.8
8.Offshore Maule, ChileFeb. 27, 20108.8
9.Rat Islands, Aleutian IslandsFeb. 4, 19658.7
10.Northern Sumatra, IndonesiaMarch 28, 20058.7
2. Moment magnitude (Mag.) on the Richter Scale
3. March 28, 03:36:14 UT (March 27, 5:36 P.M. local time)


Following is the deadliest earthquakes of 50,000 or more on record, according to the National Earthquake Information Center and the U.S. Geological Survey:

Jan. 23, 1556Shansi, China830,000~8
July 27, 1976Tangshan, China255,000 17.5
Aug. 9, 1138Aleppo, Syria230,000n.a.
Dec. 26, 2004Off west coast of northern Sumatra 225,000 +9.0
Jan. 12, 2010Haiti222,5707.0
Dec. 22, 856 2Damghan, Iran200,000n.a.
May 22, 1927near Xining, Tsinghai, China200,0007.9
Dec. 16, 1920Gansu, China200,0007.8
March 23, 893 2Ardabil, Iran150,000n.a.
Sept. 1, 1923Kwanto, Japan143,0007.9
Oct. 5, 1948Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, USSR110,0007.3
Dec. 28, 1908Messina, Italy70,000–
100,000 3
Sept. 1290Chihli, China100,000n.a.
May 12, 2008Eastern Sichuan, China87,5877.9
Oct. 8, 2005Pakistan 80,3617.6
Nov. 1667Shemakha, Caucasia 80,000n.a.
Nov. 18, 1727Tabriz, Iran 77,000n.a.
Dec. 25, 1932Gansu, China 70,0007.6
Nov. 1, 1755Lisbon, Portugal 70,0008.7
May 31, 1970Peru 66,0007.9
May 30, 1935Quetta, Pakistan 30,000–
Jan. 11, 1693Sicily, Italy 60,000n.a.
1268 4Silicia, Asia Minor 60,000n.a.
June 20, 1990Iran 50,0007.7
Feb. 4, 1783Calabria, Italy 50,000n.a.
1. Official. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.
2. Note that these dates are prior to A.D. 1000. No digit is missing.
3. Estimated.
4. No date available.

Read more: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0884804.html#ixzz3YUwHb0zh

Photo Credits: India TV News, Biography on Facebook, Denver CBS4

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