ABSTRACT

Previous studies have shown that immediately after large earthquakes, there is a period of increased public interest. This represents a window of opportunity for science communication and disaster‐relief fundraising efforts to reach more people. However, how public interest varies for different earthquakes has not been quantified systematically on a global scale. We analyze how global search interest for the term “earthquake” on Google varies following destructive earthquakes from 2004 to 2016. We find that there is a spike in search interest after destructive earthquakes followed by an exponential temporal decay. The duration and time constant of increased search interest correlate with death toll and damages but did not correlate with earthquake magnitude, estimated population exposed to very strong shaking, and number of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) “Did You Feel It?” (DYFI) responses. Furthermore, we obtain similar time constants of increased search interest when analyzing just the U.S. search interest following destructive earthquakes outside of U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico. This suggests that a significant portion of the increased search interest comes from people who did not feel the shaking. Our observations are consistent with more destructive earthquakes receiving more media coverage which leads to a longer duration of elevated public interest in earthquakes. Of the 73 earthquakes that resulted in an increase in global search interest that fit our selection criteria, only 11 (15%) resulted in an elevated search interest of more than a week. Therefore, to take advantage of these short durations of increased public interest, science communication and disaster‐relief fundraising efforts have to act promptly following devastating earthquakes.

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