Earthquake Magnitude and Intensity

Addressing misconceptions around magnitude and intensity to inform earthquake early warning alerting strategies

Natural Resources Canada will be implementing an earthquake early warning system for the earthquake-prone portions of the country.


To get an alert of an earthquake, so one could take proper action (drop, cover, hold on) depends on two kinds of information about the earthquake, (1) the magnitude, how much energy the earthquake is releasing, and (2) the intensity, the amount of shaking taking place in any location because of the earthquake.

Unfortunately, many people conflate earthquake magnitude with earthquake intensity causing confusion about why one did or did not get an alert. It is important that people understand why they did or did not receive an alert for any single earthquake event to maintain trust in the system so that alert receivers will take appropriate measures to save life and property.


This project will explore what the people know about magnitude and intensity and propose ways to enhance their understanding of the concepts.

The Problem


Magnitude and Intensity are often confused, potentially resulting in poor public responses to earthquake early warning systems.

The Approaches

To solve this problem, the project takes three different but complimentary approaches.

The Historical Approach

Research the history of the concepts of earthquake magnitude and intensity to understand the context of their development through time and to document this development in a historical case study (or multiple case studies).

The Linguistic Approach

Examine various media to:

  1. determine how the public understand earthquake magnitude and intensity by identifying the metaphors they use when discussing these concepts;
  2. identify what metaphors learners are exposed to that could influence how they think about the target concepts.

The Socio-Cultural Approach

Inventory common approaches to teaching the key concepts of magnitude and intensity over time and assess what is known about the merit of each of these approaches within each culture.

Ven Diagram

The Research Team


Shona van Zijll de Jong

PhD: Research Associate


Esther Njeri Muturi

MSc Student

Esther Njeri Muturi is a petroleum officer (geophysicist) with the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, Kenya. Previously she worked as a processing geophysicist at the Bureau of Geophysical Prospecting (BGP) CNPC, Nairobi Processing Center. Her previous MSc Thesis was based on application of integrated geophysical techniques for groundwater potential evaluation in hard fractured basement: Mutito fault zone, Kenya.


Josephine Bellizzi

MSc Student

Josephine Bellizzi is a MSc Student working on the Linguistic Approach of this project. Previously they worked as a research assistant at the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of Oregon.


Dr. Glenn Dolphin

Primary Investigator

Glenn Dolphin is the Tamaratt Teaching Professor in Geoscience. His research focuses on how students learn in geology and he is especially interested in how the use of history and the use of metaphor influences student learning.

Be a Part of the Research

Please participate in a survey examining Canadians' understanding of earthquakes and especially earthquake magnitude and intensity.


The Sponsors

This project is generously funded by...

In collaboration with...