Why are we having so many earthquakes? Has naturally occurring earthquake activity been increasing? Does this mean a big one is going to hit? OR We haven't had any earthquakes in a long time; does this mean that the pressure is building up for a big one?
A temporary increase or decrease in seismicity is part of the normal fluctuation of earthquake rates. Neither an increase or decrease worldwide is a positive indication that a large earthquake is imminent.
The NEIC now locates about 20,000 earthquakes each year, or approximately 55 per day. As a result of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about earthquakes more quickly than ever before.
According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 16 major earthquakes in any given year, which includes 15 earthquakes in the magnitude 7 range and one earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater. In the past 38 years, from 1973 through 2011, our records show that we have exceeded the long-term average number of major earthquakes only 8 times, in 1976, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The year with the largest total was 2010, with 24 earthquakes greater than or equal to magnitude 7.0. In other years the total was well below the 16 per year expected based on the long-term average: 1989 only saw 6, while 1988 saw only 7 major earthquakes.