1999 seemed like a very bad year, over 20,000 people died across the world from several different earthquakes. But there were several other earthquakes that killed many more people in a single event, the largest known is the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake, which killed an estimated 830,000 people. So that year could have been the worst ever that we know about. Of course this is all based on human death tolls, it is impossible for us to know the worst year for overall seismic activity due to the fact that humans have no been on Earth for a very long time.
There are more reports of earthquakes because of technology. 2008 saw 35 earthquakes of magnitude 6 and over; and 2009 saw a record-breaking 52, taking it way off the above average scale but the USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Many go undetected because they hit remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The NEIC now locates about 50 earthquakes each day, or about 20,000 a year.As more and more seismographs are installed in the world, more earthquakes can be and have been located. However, the number of large earthquakes (magnitude 6.0 and greater) has stayed relatively constant.
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