Natural Hazards

, Volume 23, Issue 2–3, pp 315–338 | Cite as

Interpretive Pitfalls in Historical Hazards Data

  • Allen M. Hittelman
  • Patricia A. Lockridge
  • Lowell S. Whiteside
  • James F. Lander


The primary use of the natural hazards data archived at the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) and co-located World Data Center for Solid Earth Geophysics (WDC for SEG) is for the mitigation of future disasters. Among the responsibilities of NGDC/WDC for SEG is archiving and disseminating hazards data to city planners, educators, engineers and others engaged in mitigation efforts (approximately 150,000 users per week on our web site). Therefore, it is the purpose of this paper to educate the hazards' community about some of the limitations of these data. It is hoped that enlightened users would have a greater appreciation of data errors and possible sources of misinterpretation of the data.

Personnel at NGDC/WDC for SEG are in a unique position to discuss the limitations of hazards data since we compile data from original and secondary sources. We are also in direct contact with the data users and know the applications that they make of hazard data, and the misjudgments that often occur when data limitations are not known.

Most hazard catalogs cover periods of less than 200 years and are reasonably complete and accurate for only the past 20 to 50 years. Such catalogs are not sufficient to investigate long term hazard variations. Earthquake, tsunami, and volcano data catalogs, acquired and integrated at NGDC/WDC for SEG, illustrate artificial long-term variations created by cultural and scientific reporting changes, which can introduce unanticipated non-random variations into the catalogs. Inconsistencies are often related to changes in the way magnitudes are calculated, evolving network equipment, and network discontinuities of operation and personnel, among other error sources.

Before statistical hazard studies can be done, catalogs need to be clearly understood to identify systematic patterns of an observational nature.

catalogs seismicity tsunamis volcanoes historical data errors 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Berninghausen, W. H.: 1968, Informal report, tsunamis and seismic seiches reported from western North and South Atlantic, and the coastal waters of northwestern Europe, Naval Oceanographic Office, Informal Report No. 6885, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  2. Coan, T.: 1872, Recent eruption of Moana Loa, American Journal of Science, Ser., 3, 2(23), 406–407.Google Scholar
  3. Cox, D. C.: 1984, Probable central Aleutian source of the tsunami observed in August 1872 in Hawaii, Oregon, and California, Science of Tsunami Hazards, The International Journal of the Tsunami Society, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2(2), 79–94.Google Scholar
  4. Cox, D. C. and Lander, J. F.: 1995, Revised source of the tsunami of August 23, 1872, Science of Tsunami Hazards: The International Journal of the Tsunami Society, Honolulu, Hawaii, 12(2), 117–126.Google Scholar
  5. Cox, D. C.: 1987, Casualties and Mortality in Hawaii, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.Google Scholar
  6. de Ballore, F. de Montessus: 1906, Les Tremblements de Terra, Geographie Seismologique, Librairie Armand Colin, Paris, France.Google Scholar
  7. Francis, P. and Self, S.: 1987, Collapsing volcanoes, Scientific American 256(6), 91–97.Google Scholar
  8. Gouin, P.: 1979, Earthquake History of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, International Development Research Council, Ottawa, Canada.Google Scholar
  9. Gutenberg, B. and Richter, C. F.: 1949, Seismicity of the Earth and Associated Phenomena, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  10. Habermann, R. E.: 1991, Seismicity rate variations and systematic changes in magnitudes in teleseismic catalogs, Tectonophysics 193, 277–289.Google Scholar
  11. Harte, D. and Vere-Jones, D.: 1998, Differences in coverage between the PDE and New Zealand local earthquake catalogues, Statistical Seismology, China Seismological Bureau.Google Scholar
  12. Herridge de Guerrero, Christine M., Coordinator, Dominican Disaster Mitigation Committee, personal communication.Google Scholar
  13. Iida, K.: 1984, Catalog of Tsunamis in Japan and Its Neighboring Countries, Aichi Institute of Technology, Japan.Google Scholar
  14. International Seismological Centre: 1916-1998, Catalogue of events and associated observations, Bulletin of the Seismological Center, Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.Google Scholar
  15. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission/ITSU: 1991, National Report of Japan, IOC, International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific, XII.Google Scholar
  16. Kanamori, H.: 1977, The energy release in great earthquakes, Journal Geophysical Research 82, 1981–1987.Google Scholar
  17. Lander, J. F.: 1996, Tsunamis Affecting Alaska, 1737-1996, United States Department of Commerce, Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
  18. Lander, J. F. and Lockridge, P. A.: 1989, United States Tsunamis, 1690-1988, United States Department of Commerce, Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
  19. Lander, J. F., Lockridge, P. A., and Kozuch, M. J.: 1993, Tsunamis Affecting the West Coast of the United States, 1806-1992, United States Department of Commerce, Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
  20. Lander, J. F., Lockridge, P. A., and Meyers, H.: 1988, Subaerial and submarine landslide generated tsunamis, Panel of Wind and Seismic Effects, US-Japan, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards, NGISR-88-37703, Gaithersburg, Maryland, pp. 187–199.Google Scholar
  21. Lander, J. F., Whiteside, L. S., and O'Loughlin, K. K. (in preparation): Global Tsunamis, 1983-1999.Google Scholar
  22. Latter, J. N.: 1982, Tsunamis of volcanic origin: Summary of causes, with particular reference to Krakatoa, 1883, Bulletin of Volcanology 44, 467–490.Google Scholar
  23. Mallet, R.: 1853, Catalogue of recorded earthquakes from 1606 B.C. to A.D. 1850; Part 2, 1755 to 1784 A.D. Report of the Twenty-third Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Belfast, September, 1852, John Murray, Abemarle Street, London.Google Scholar
  24. McCormick, M. P, Thomason, L.W., and Trepte, C.R.: 1995, Atmospheric effects of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, Nature 373(2), 399–404.Google Scholar
  25. Newhall, C. and Self, S.: 1982, The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI): An estimate of the explosive magnitude for historic volcanism, Journal Geophysical Research 87(C2), 1231–1238.Google Scholar
  26. Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 6, 1872.Google Scholar
  27. Richter, C. F.: 1935, An instrumental earthquake magnitude scale, Seis. Soc. Am. Bull. 25, 1–32.Google Scholar
  28. Ried, H. F. and Taber, S.: 1919, The Puerto Rico Earthquake of 1918 with Descriptions of Earlier Earthquakes, Report of the Earthquake Investigation Commission, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  29. Rothe, J. P.: 1969, The Seismicity of the Earth, 1953-1965, UNESCO.Google Scholar
  30. Simkin, T. and Siebert, L.: 1994, Volcanoes of the World, Second Edition, Geoscience Press, Inc., Tucson, Arizona, published in association with the Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  31. Soloviev, S. L. and Go, Ch. N.: 1974, A Catalogue of Tsunamis on the Western Shore of the Pacific Ocean, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, “Nauka” Publishing House, Moscow. Translation by Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, National Research Council, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  32. Tazieff, H. and Sabroux, J. C.: 1983, Forecasting Volcanic Events, Elsevier, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  33. Whiteside, L. S.: 1989, An Approach to the Correction of Catalog Magnitudes, Masters Thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
  34. Whiteside, L. S. and Hittelman, A. M.: 1998, Use of seismicity catalogs for earthquake prediction research, Proceedings of the IASPEI Conference, Haifa, Israel, May 1998.Google Scholar
  35. Whiteside, L. S., Dater, D. T., Dunbar, P. K., Racey, S. D., Buhmann, R. W., and Hittelman, A. M.: 1996, Seismicity Catalogs (CD-ROMs), Part 1-North America, Part 2-Global and Regional, 2150 B.C.-1996 A.D., National Geophysical Data Center and World Data Center for Solid Earth Geophysics, U.S. Geological Survey, Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
  36. Yale, C. G.: 1872, Proceedings, regular meeting of October 7th, 1872, Proceedings of the California Academy of Science, Ser. 1(4), 267–269.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allen M. Hittelman
    • 1
  • Patricia A. Lockridge
    • 1
  • Lowell S. Whiteside
    • 2
  • James F. Lander
    • 2
  1. 1.NOAA National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC)World Data Center for Solid Earth GeophysicsBoulderU.S.A.
  2. 2.Cooperative Institute of Research in Environmental SciencesNOAABoulderU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations