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Mercalli intensity scale

The Mercalli intensity scale is a scale used for measuring the intensity of an earthquake. The scale quantifies the effects of an earthquake on the Earth's surface, humans, objects of nature, and man-made structures on a scale of I through XII, with I denoting a weak earthquake and XII one that causes almost complete destruction.

Evolution of the Mercalli scale

The Mercalli scale originated with the widely used simple ten-degree Rossi-Forel scale, which was revised by Italian volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli in 1883 and 1902. The terms or Mercalli scale should not be used unless one really means the original ten-degree scale of 1902.

In 1902 the ten-degree Mercalli scale was expanded to twelve degrees by Italian physicist Adolfo Cancani. It was later completely re-written by German geophysicist August Heinrich Sieberg and became known as the Mercalli-Cancani-Sieberg (MCS) scale. The Mercalli-Cancani-Sieberg scale was later modified and published in English by Harry O. Wood and Frank Neumann in 1931 as the Mercalli-Wood-Neuman (MWN) scale. It was later improved by Charles Richter, the father of the Richter magnitude scale. The scale is known today as the Modified Mercalli Scale and commonly abbreviated MM or Io.

Modified Mercalli scale

The lower degrees of the MM scale generally deal with the manner in which the earthquake is felt by people. The higher numbers of the scale are based on observed structural damage. The table below is a rough guide to the degrees of the Modified Mercalli Scale. The colors and descriptive names shown here differ from those used on certain shake maps in other articles.

I. Instrumental Not felt by many people unless in favorable conditions.
II. Feeble Felt only by a few people at best, especially on the upper floors of buildings. Delicately suspended objects may swing.
III. Slight Felt quite noticeably by people indoors, especially on the upper floors of buildings. Many do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibration similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.
IV. Moderate Felt indoors by many people, outdoors by few people during the day. At night, some awakened. Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably. Dishes and windows rattle alarmingly.
V. Rather Strong
VI. Strong Felt by all; many frightened and run outdoors, walk unsteadily. Windows, dishes, glassware broken; books off shelves; some heavy furniture moved or overturned; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.
VII. Very Strong Difficult to stand; furniture broken; damage negligible in building of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken. Noticed by people driving motor cars.
VIII. Destructive Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture moved.
IX. Ruinous General panic; damage considerable in specially designed structures, well designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.
X. Disastrous Some well built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundation. Rails bent.
XI. Very Disastrous Few, if any masonry structures remain standing. Bridges destroyed. Rails bent greatly.
XII. Catastrophic Total damage - Almost everything is destroyed. Lines of sight and level distorted. Objects thrown into the air. The ground moves in waves or ripples. Large amounts of rock may move position.

Correlations with Physical Quantities

The Mercalli scale is not defined in terms of more rigorous, objectively quantifiable measurements such as shake amplitude, peak velocity, acceleration, or period. Information on these has been provided by the USGS Shakemap site Note that perceived shaking (the basis for the Calligraph scale) is best correlated with acceleration for low-intensity events, and with velocity for high-intensity events.

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