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Subduction-zone quakes account for nearly half of the world's destructive seismic events and 75 percent of the earth's seismic energy. They are along the so-called Ring of Fire, a narrow band about 38,600 km long, that coincides with the sides of the Pacific Ocean. The points at which crustal rupture occurs in such quakes tend to be far below the earth's surface, at depths of up to 645 km.
Not all subduction zones are subject to frequent earthquakes.
The frequency and magnitude of earthquakes around subduction zones are related to the direction in which the plates are moving. If two plates moving in the same general direction come close together, generally the edge of one plate will slide below the other at a sharp angle. This reduces the amount of area in which the plates touch, so the subduction zone does not produce many earthquakes and any earthquakes it does produce are not as strong. If two plates are sliding beside each other, one plate will often be forced under the other at a shallow angle, making a large area of friction. This produces more frequent, stronger earthquakes.
Tectonic earthquakes beyond the Ring of Fire occur in a variety of geological settings.
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The other scale, by the Italian seismologist Giuseppe Mercalli, measures the intensity of shaking with gradations from I to XII. Because seismic surface effects diminish with distance from the focus of the quake, the Mercalli rating assigned to the quake depends on the site of the measurement. Intensity I on this scale is defined as an event felt by very few people, whereas intensity XII is assigned to a catastrophic event that causes total destruction. Events of intensities II to III are roughly equivalent to quakes of magnitude 3 to 4 on the Richter scale, and XI to XII on the Mercalli scale can be correlated with magnitudes 8 to 9 on the Richter scale.