Part 1: Analyzing Earthquake Data


Lesson Overview

This lesson is designed to help students visualize earth science data with GIS. Students will also use the Internet to acquire the most recent data on earthquakes worldwide.  In this investigation, you will use the Internet to acquire the most recent data on earthquakes worldwide.



The student is able to:

·         Use the Internet to locate data for recent earthquake and volcanic activity.

·         Map data acquired from the Internet.

·         Compare the pattern of recent earthquake and volcanic events with the patterns of seismic events in the past.

·         Identify world regions and cities where human populations face the greatest threat from current seismic events.


1.1. Locate earthquake data on the WWW

The Web is a great source for geographic data. In this step, you will go to the US Geological Survey (USGS) website to find earthquake data.

Open your web browser and go to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center at:


I want you to spend 20 minutes on this web site (ONLY THIS WEB SITE) and to try different visualization and learning tools they have.  There is also an animation tool you can try.  Find out some information about the place you live. 


For your town, find the:




You may need to use a different web page to get these two.



Identify two closest earthquakes that have happened in last day and last week near the location you live, including their magnitudes.


Please do not move to the next session until I ask you to do so.


Now let’s do some analyses.  Once again, bring the main page up:


·         For search area, select Global (Worldwide)

·         For output File Type, select Spreadsheet format (comma delimited)

·         For search Parameters, select USGS/NEIC (PDE) 1973-Present.

·         For Optional Search Parameters, type the following range of dates:

·         2004 Starting Year 01 Starting Month 01 Starting Day

·         2005 Ending Year 12 Ending Month 31 Ending Day

·         Set the Minimum Magnitude to 7 and Maximum Magnitude to 10.

·         Do not type any values for Depth or Intensity.

·         Click Submit Search.


1.2 Prepare data for Excel

Follow these steps to get the data:

·         Use your mouse to highlight and select all the data shown. Be sure to include the field names, but do not include other text on the Web page.   Something like this:

  2004,01,03,162321.02,-22.25, 169.68,7.1, 22
  2004,02,05,210502.84, -3.62, 135.54,7.1, 16
  2004,02,07,024235.21, -4.00, 135.02,7.5, 10
  2004,07,25,143519.06, -2.43, 103.98,7.3,582
  2004,09,05,100707.82, 33.07, 136.62,7.2, 14
  2004,09,05,145718.61, 33.18, 137.07,7.4, 10
  2004,10,09,212653.69, 11.42, -86.67,7.0, 35
  2004,11,11,212641.15, -8.15, 124.87,7.5, 10
  2004,11,15,090656.56,  4.70, -77.51,7.2, 15
  2004,11,22,202623.90,-46.68, 164.72,7.1, 10
  2004,11,26,022503.31, -3.61, 135.40,7.2, 10
  2004,11,28,183214.13, 43.01, 145.12,7.0, 39
  2004,12,23,145904.41,-49.31, 161.35,8.1, 10
  2004,12,26,005853.45,  3.30,  95.98,9.0, 30
  2004,12,26,042129.81,  6.91,  92.96,7.5, 39
  2005,02,05,122318.94,  5.29, 123.34,7.1,525
  2005,03,02,104212.23, -6.53, 129.93,7.1,201
  2005,03,28,160936.53,  2.09,  97.11,8.6, 30
  2005,06,13,224433.90,-19.99, -69.20,7.8,115
  2005,06,15,025054.19, 41.29,-125.95,7.2, 16
  2005,07,24,154206.21,  7.92,  92.19,7.5, 16
  2005,08,16,024628.40, 38.28, 142.04,7.2, 36
  2005,09,09,072643.73, -4.54, 153.47,7.7, 90
  2005,09,26,015537.67, -5.68, -76.40,7.5,115
  2005,10,08,035040.80, 34.54,  73.59,7.7, 26
  2005,11,14,213851.42, 38.11, 144.90,7.0, 11
  2005,12,05,121956.62, -6.22,  29.83,7.2, 22


·         From the Edit menu, select Copy.

·         Open the Notepad Program. From the Edit menu, choose Paste.

·         Delete the “(” section of the Time column heading, i.e, leave only the “Time”.

·         Shorten the heading Latitude to Lat,

·         Shorten the heading Longitude to Long, and

·         Shorten the heading Magnitude to Mag.

·         Save this file as a text file and name it Quake05.txt.

·         Exit the Notepad program and minimize your web browser.


You will use the Latitude and Longitude coordinates in this text file to create a new layer of point features that indicate the locations of the earthquakes.


1.3 Importing and analyzing the data with Excel.

·         Start Excel

·         Open the file Quake05.txt.

·         In the Text Import Wizard choose Delimited, click Next

·         Since all columns are separated by “,” Choose under Delimiters choose Comma, Click Next

·         Click Next to finish


Now you have your data in Excel.  Save the file as Quake05.xls in the My Document folder.



Looking at the data that you just imported:

Year, Month, Day, Time, Latitude, Longitude, Magnitude, Depth


P1. Generate two visualizations based on this data and write a paragraph for each that reflects your observations and conclusions.


P2. Based on what you learned above, find the data for year 2004 and identify the 2004 Sumatra tsunami.


P3. Use MATLAB to create a 3-D view of the data where the x and z (width and length) are the latitude and Longitude and y (height) is the Magnitude.  Make your observations.

Here are the steps:

·         Run MATLAB

·         Change your working directory to My Document folder

·         Read the Excel file that you have stored in MATLAB

o       Example:   num = xlsread(’ Quake05.xls’);

·         The three columns you want to use are stored under:

Lat, Long, and Mag

            are stored in columns 5, 6, and 7.  So we want to extract them from num.

·         To do extract each of these at the MATLAB prompt type:

>> lat = num(: , 5)  % this reads column 5 and store as lat

>> long = mum(: , 6)  % this reads column 6 and store as long

>> mag = num(: , 7) % this reads column 7 and store as mag

·         To plot these in a 3-D graph, at the MATLAB prompt type:

>> plot3(lat, long, mag)


This produces the following plot.


We will use the MATLAB Graphical User Interface to add information to this plot.




To modify this plot click on the white arrow at the top to go to the edit mode.  Now by double clicking on different parts of the graph you can make modification.  For example you can add title, label, etc..  Here is an example: