Aftershocks: Are they earthquakes or afterthoughts?



We tend to view aftershocks as after-thoughts in their scientific as well as societal importance. The media often ask seismologists: “Was it just an aftershock?” with the “just” implying that aftershocks present little cause for concern. Seismologists themselves tend to dismiss the importance of events that follow a large mainshock. Even appreciable aftershocks typically generate only a fraction of the scientific interest and investigation that the mainshock does. However, consideration of recent earthquake sequences suggests that aftershocks can be even more damaging than mainshocks in some cases. That is, although the aftershocks are still, by definition, smaller events, they could be even more damaging by virtue of proximity to population centers or other circumstances.