Science, Tech, Math › Science The 8 Most Powerful Earthquakes Ever Recorded Based on total energy released Share Flipboard Email Print Science Geology Plate Tectonics Types Of Rocks Landforms and Geologic Features Geologic Processes Chemistry Biology Physics Astronomy Weather & Climate By Brooks Mitchell Science Expert B.A., Geology, University of Alabama Brooks Mitchell is an earth science educator and geologist who is currently the Education Coordinator for the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. our editorial process Brooks Mitchell Updated February 13, 2018 This list gives a numerical ranking of the most powerful earthquakes that have been scientifically measured. In short, it is based on magnitude and not intensity. A large magnitude does not necessarily mean that an earthquake was deadly, or that it even had a high Mercalli intensity rating. Magnitude 8+ earthquakes may shake with roughly the same force as smaller earthquakes, but they do so at a lower frequency and for a longer time. This lower frequency is "better" at moving large structures, causing landslides and creating the ever-feared tsunami. Major tsunamis are associated with every earthquake on this list. In terms of geographical distribution, only three continents are represented on this list: Asia (3), North America (2) and South America (3). Unsurprisingly, all of these areas lie within the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area where 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur. Note that the dates and times listed are in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) unless otherwise mentioned. 01 of 09 May 22, 1960 - Chile Bettmann Archive / Getty Images Magnitude: 9.5 At 19:11:14 UTC, the largest earthquake in recorded history occurred. The earthquake triggered a tsunami that affected most of the Pacific, causing fatalities in Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines. In Chile alone, it killed 1,655 people and left more than 2,000,000 homeless. 02 of 09 March 28, 1964 - Alaska Railroad tracks badly damaged by the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. USGS Magnitude: 9.2 The "Good Friday Earthquake" claimed the lives of 131 people and lasted for four full minutes. The earthquake caused destruction in the surrounding 130,000 square kilometers (including Anchorage, which was heavily damaged) and was felt in all of Alaska and parts of Canada and Washington. 03 of 09 December 26, 2004 - Indonesia A pile of former homes in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. January 18, 2005. Spencer Platt/Getty Images Magnitude: 9.1 In 2004, an earthquake struck off the western coast of northern Sumatra and devastated 14 countries in Asia and Africa. The earthquake caused great destruction, ranking as high as IX on the Mercalli Intensity Scale (MM), and the ensuing tsunami caused more casualties than any other in history. 04 of 09 March 11, 2011 - Japan Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images Magnitude: 9.0 Striking near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, this earthquake killed more than 15,000 people and displaced another 130,000. Its damage totaled more than 309 billion U.S. dollars, making it the costliest natural disaster in history. The ensuing tsunami, which reached heights upwards of 97 feet locally, affected the entire Pacific. It was even large enough to cause an ice shelf to calve in Antarctica. The waves also damaged a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, causing a level 7 (out of 7) meltdown. 05 of 09 November 4, 1952 - Russia (Kamchatka Peninsula) Tsunami travel time for 1952 Kamchatka earthquake. NOAA/Department of Commerce Magnitude: 9.0 Incredibly, no person was killed from this earthquake. In fact, the only casualties occurred more than 3,000 miles away, when 6 cows in Hawaii died from the subsequent tsunami. It was originally given a 8.2 rating, but was later recalculated. A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Kamchatka region again in 2006. 06 of 09 February 27, 2010 - Chile What remains of Dichato, Chile 3 weeks after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami. Jonathan Saruk/Getty Images Magnitude: 8.8 This earthquake killed more than 500 people and was felt as high as IX MM. The total economic loss in Chile alone was more than 30 billion U.S. dollars. Once again, a major tsunami occurred Pacific-wide, causing damage as far as San Diego, CA. 07 of 09 January 31, 1906 - Ecuador Magnitude: 8.8 This earthquake occurred off the coast of Ecuador and killed between 500-1,500 people from its ensuing tsunami. This tsunami affected the entire Pacific, reaching the shores of Japan approximately 20 hours later. 08 of 09 February 4, 1965 - Alaska Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images Magnitude: 8.7 This earthquake ruptured a 600-km segment of the Aleutian Islands. It generated a tsunami around 35 feet high on a nearby island, but caused very little other damage to a state devastated a year earlier when the "Good Friday Earthquake" hit the region. 09 of 09 Other Historical Earthquakes Estimated tsunami travel time for 1755 Portugal earthquake. NOAA/Department of Commerce Of course, earthquakes occurred before 1900, they were just not measured as accurately. Here are some notable pre-1900 earthquakes with estimated magnitude and, when available, intensity: August 13, 1868 - Arica, Peru (now Chile): Estimated magnitude: 9.0; Mercalli intensity: XI. November 1, 1755 - Lisbon, Portugal: Estimated magnitude: 8.7; Mercalli intensity: X.January 26, 1700 - Cascadia Region (Pacific Northwest), United States and Canada: Estimated magnitude: ~9. This earthquake is known from written records of its subsequent tsunami in Japan.