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Earthshattering WikiProject Earthquakes

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By Mabeenot
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Global earthquake epicenters
Damage from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake
San Andreas Fault northwest of Los Angeles
Tsunami in Thailand caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
Damage from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

This week, we felt the world tremble in the presence of WikiProject Earthquakes. The project was started in May 2008 to deal with articles about earthquakes, aftershocks, seismology, seismologists, plate tectonics, and related articles. While the project has seen success building 14 Featured Articles, one A-class Article, and 21 Good Articles, a fairly heavy workload remains, with a relative WikiWork rating of 4.94. WikiProject Earthquakes maintains a portal, a list of open tasks, a popular pages listing, and an article alerts watchlist. We interviewed Ceranthor, Dawnseeker2000, and Mikenorton.

What motivated you to join WikiProject Earthquakes? Have you contributed to any of the project's Featured or Good Articles? Do you participate in any other projects that handle natural disasters or earth sciences?

Ceranthor: I created the project after noticing a lack of high-quality content in the field. There was only one earthquake-related featured article at the time! Now I have contributed to five featured articles and four good articles in the area. I also contribute at WikiProject Volcanoes where I write content.
Dawnseeker2000 — Throughout my editing history I had always contributed in small ways to earthquake articles but for most of that time I didn't think I knew enough to create quality content. Then things changed about a year ago after taking on an article about a recent minor earthquake. After doing that I realized that I can write a decent article even with just knowing the basics. My confidence was boosted even further after co-writing a few more articles, then I realized that I enjoyed the process of gathering sources and putting together articles on the older events. That's about when I joined and since then I have devoted most of my editing to earthquake-related topics, but I still do quite a bit of maintenance around other areas of Wikipedia as well.
Mikenorton - I got involved by noticing the lack of geological context in many of the earthquake articles and trying to do something about that. I've contributed to one featured article so far. I'm also involved in WikiProject geology

How is Wikipedia's coverage of earthquakes different from severe weather? Does activity at the project wax and wane with the occurrence of major earthquakes? Is there any predicting or tracking of seismic activity that compares to the forecasts of severe storms and seasons?

Ceranthor: The approaches of the two projects have always been very different. The Hurricanes Project is a considerable one, and there has always been an emphasis there on producing high-quality content; our goal is more to expand coverage for less-known earthquakes and to improve the many low-quality seismology articles scattered across the project. Since earthquakes are (gasp) fairly complicated to understand and currently impossible to predict very accurately, the subject tends to be less popular than meteorology. We definitely have periods of productivity, but I cannot say that we have ever been a highly active group as a whole.
Mikenorton - There is a flurry of activity when there's a major earthquake, but most of the time we just concentrate on filling the gaps and expanding those that are already there.

On Wikipedia, are the earthquakes of any regions or time periods better covered than others? What can be done to fill gaps in coverage of earthquakes?

Ceranthor: From experience American earthquakes tend to be better-covered than others. I have worked on Iranian earthquakes articles simply because I am interested in the safety issues that surround those earthquakes, and because they seem to have fascinating stories that run along in the background or little factoids that are totally worth including in an article. In all honesty more contributors alone would be a huge help in expanding coverage.
Dawnseeker2000 — I'm in my comfort zone working on articles that focus on earthquakes in California (All the earthquakes I've experienced first-hand have been there, though I have yet to contribute to those articles). I started my work on earthquake articles that were in Mexico, then Canada, and a few in the Near East. One of my favorites was one in the Gulf of Aqaba, near the Sinai Peninsula. In general the recent earthquakes get a lot of attention, and the older items are getting put together, but slowly.
Mikenorton - The coverage of major earthquakes gets steadily less complete going back in time (particularly before about 1800) as sources become sparse and the events of perhaps less general interest. I'm working on making sure that we have articles on all known earthquakes that caused 5,000 or more deaths, although it's a slow process.

Has the project ever dealt with conflicts about the notability of earthquakes? How have these issues been resolved?

Dawnseeker2000 — There's been some AfD discussions that you really get to see where people stand on notability. Some folks focus on retention, but others are geared towards being deletionists. The discussions tend to be not too bad, so it's not a continual problem.
Mikenorton - I came up with the guidelines following a series of AfD discussions, when there were a lot of minor (particularly recent - i.e. during Wikipedia's existence) earthquakes that were really only just news events. It seems to have calmed down a lot these days.

Is it difficult to obtain images for articles about earthquakes? What tend to be the best sources for freely licensed images from areas impacted by an earthquake?

Dawnseeker2000 — I upload images from NOAA / NGDC / USGS and for older events there's usually not much to work with. The USGS has ShakeMaps (brightly colored images depicting the intensity of shaking or ground acceleration) for earthquakes going as far back as the 1960s. Any type of table, map, or image to add to the presentation makes an article all the better. I don't really have any other artistic outlet so apparently putting these articles together is where it all comes out :)
Mikenorton - Images can be a problem, for tectonic settings I sometimes create maps and I search around for photos, other language wikis can be a good source - the oldest photograph currently in use is that in the 1857 Basilicata earthquake article, as far as I know

What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?

Mikenorton - There are a lot of stub articles out there about important events that need expanding and, as I've already said, there are a lot of missing articles about major (particularly historical) earthquakes

Anything else you'd like to add?

Ceranthor: I just wanted to point out that of all the Projects I have participated in, I have never met more amiable and cooperative editors than those at the Earthquakes Project. :)

Next week, the Report will take its first trip to Africa. Until then, explore other cultures in the archive.

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