Earthquake Heat Map

Type: Investigation

Theme: Statistics

Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Learning Target: Students will analyze USGS seismology data using spreadsheets and produce a heat map graph to look for seismic patterns at a latitude and longitude top view.


 Image courtesy of geophysics.ou.eduThis project will be completed in groups of two.

Step 1: Download Data

  1. Select a location near active fault zones. Go to 
  2. Set minimum magnitude to 1 to 3 based on how many earthquakes occur in your selected area (max quakes for Desmos is 5000).
  3. Set date and time spans (choose at least 20 years). 
  4. Select geographic location (square boundary is preferred).
  5. Set Format to CSV (comma separated values).
  6. Click Search and Download the file.
  7. Get a screenshot/snip of your location.

Step 2: Build the data in a spreadsheet.

  1. Open the downloaded CSV file in Excel or another spreadsheet tool.
  2. Copy the latitude through magnitude columns (latitude, longitude, depth, mag).

Step 3: Graph the data in Desmos.

  1. Paste the columns in Desmos. It will truncate the data if over 5000 rows. 
  2. Turn off the points. 
  3. Since x and y are reversed, latitude (y), longitude (x), you'll need to create a new list of points (y1,x1).
  4. Create a set of points for each magnitude, such as:
    (y1, x1) {2 < m1 < 3}
    (y1, x1) {3 < m1 < 4}
    Filled circles can be used:
  5. Research distance versus magnitudes of earthquakes in your area. For example, how far away can a magnitude 5 earthquake be felt? Adjust the colors and alpha (transparency) and size for each set of points for the desired effect. 
  6. Add a background map for your location from your original snip from the USGS map.

Step 4: Write a summary page.

  1. Save your graph by capturing it as a snip or screenshot. 
  2. Create one summary page for your heat map. Include:
    1. Location
    2. Center latitude and longitude
    3. Are there any patterns to the earthquakes?
    4. Why did you choose your point colors, transparencies, and sizes?
    5. A photo of a landscape feature or cultural feature, such as a fault line or architectural ruin, that was caused by an earthquake. Describe.
    6. Sources.
  3. Obtain a Peer Review. Revise.


  1. One page heat map graphic with summary text.
  2. Link to Desmos graph.
  3. Peer Review.



Exit Ticket
CCSS Math Practice
  • I can construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • I can model with mathematics.
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
  • Patterns