WWU seismologist captures 'Swift-quake,' story goes global

WWU Geology expert's readings show Taylor Swift's Seattle concerts caused 2.3 magnitude seismic activity at Lumen Field
Photo by Kari Mar, '98, who attended the concert with her niece, an incoming WWU freshman.

"Okay, Swifties, here's a teaser of what I've been looking at all day," WWU Geology Professor, Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, wrote in a blog post that showed two seismograms recorded at a seismometer near Lumen Field where Taylor Swift's concerts were held last week in Seattle. 

As she worked the data with the help of two young citizen scientists (teenagers with whom Caplan-Auerbach is familiar) who attended Swift's shows in Seattle, it became clear: the concerts caused seismic activity that dwarfed that of the infamous 2011 'Beast Quake' created by the crowd when Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch scored the winning touchdown in the Wild Card playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.

Figure courtesy of Caplan-Auerbach

Caplan-Auerbach overlapped seismograms to show consistency with the Swift concerts' set lists which were repeated over the two nights (shown at the bottom of the above image). She compared the seismic activity between the 2011 Seahawks 'Beast Quake' (shown in the upper half of the above image) and the July 2023 'Swift Quake.'

Seattle's NBC affiliate, KING 5 TV was first to run with the story and coined the term, 'Swift Quake.' The rest of the world quickly took notice.

To date, more than 3,000 publications with a combined potential reach of 37.4 billion have covered the 'Swift Quake' (Cision, 2023).

From KING 5:

"Somebody posted and said, well, 'Did the Taylor Swift concert make a Beast Quake?' and I was like, 'Oh I am on that, that's fun,'" Caplan-Auerbach told KING 5. She emphasized that regardless of the outcome, this is a way to make science unique and engaging. Science can be enjoyable and accessible.

From CNN

Dr. Caplan-Auerbach, who works as a geology professor at Western Washington University, saw the comparison in a Pacific Northwest earthquake group she moderates on Facebook and immediately got to work.

From BBC:

WWU's Caplan-Auerbach said that "the difference between the NFL game and Swift's recent concerts was just 0.3, but the "shaking was twice as strong" and "absolutely doubled it".

From the Times of India:

Seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, from Western Washington University, explained that they gauge ground vibrations using acceleration, which is then translated into the more familiar Richter scale.

From USA Today:

According to Caplan-Auerbach, the magnitude difference between the "Beast Quake" and the "Swift Quake" was 0.3, but the shaking was twice as strong as "Beast Quake."

"The other thing is that the 'Beast Quake' was a moment in time, you know. It was maybe 20, 30 seconds of incredible crowd joy and celebration and ground shaking, whereas the Taylor Swift concert was hours of this," she said.

Caplan-Auerbach said she tracked the seismic activity from both nights of Swift's concert and found that the activity was relatively the same.

From the New York Times:

The so-called “Swift Quake” recorded a maximum ground acceleration of roughly 0.011 meters per second squared, said Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, a seismologist at Western Washington University. 

While the concerts shook the ground exceptionally hard, Caplan-Auerbach said, it is important to understand that seismometers pick up signals from “anything that shakes the ground,” including cars, trains and even wind.

Nor are Taylor Swift’s earthshaking abilities unique to the music world.

The seismometer also recorded signals when The Weeknd played at Lumen Field on Aug. 25, 2022, Caplan-Auerbach said, though they were not as strong.

Beyoncé will be playing there on Sept. 14, she said. “I’ll be looking at that for sure.”

Read more coverage of this story.

WWU Geology professor Jackie Caplan-Auerbach photographed doing field work off the coast of Hawaii

Media contact: Jonathan Higgins, Director of WWU Communications, higgin5@wwu.edu