Earthquake Intensity and Magnitude: A 3-Minute Guide for Kids


When an earthquake strikes, you might hear people talking about its “intensity” and “magnitude.” But what do these terms really mean, and how are they different? In this quick guide, we’ll break down the concepts of earthquake intensity and magnitude in a way that’s easy for kids to understand.


What is Earthquake Intensity?

Earthquake intensity refers to how strongly people feel the shaking at a specific location. In other words, it’s a measure of the earthquake’s effects on people, buildings, and the environment. Intensity can vary from place to place, depending on factors like distance from the earthquake’s source and local soil conditions.

What is Earthquake Magnitude?

Earthquake magnitude, on the other hand, is a measure of the earthquake’s overall size or strength. It’s based on the amount of energy released by the earthquake at its source, deep underground. Unlike intensity, magnitude doesn’t change from place to place. Each earthquake has a single magnitude value, which scientists calculate using special instruments called seismometers.

How are Intensity and Magnitude Related?

Although earthquake intensity and magnitude are different, they are related. In general, earthquakes with higher magnitudes tend to produce stronger shaking and higher intensities. However, an earthquake’s intensity can still vary depending on location. For example, an earthquake with a high magnitude might cause severe shaking (high intensity) near its source, but only mild shaking (low intensity) farther away.

The Bottom Line

To sum it up:

  • Earthquake intensity measures shaking strength at a specific location
  • Earthquake magnitude measures the earthquake’s overall size or energy
  • Higher-magnitude earthquakes tend to produce higher intensities, but intensity still varies by location

By understanding the difference between earthquake intensity and magnitude, you’ll be better prepared to make sense of earthquake reports and stay safe during seismic events.