Recent Tectonic Activity Shaking Things Up
There seems to have been a rash of high magnitude earthquakes and volcanic eruptions recently on planet Earth. One begs to know if there is an underlying cause behind it, or if it is all merely coincidental. Can the Earth be undergoing severe seismic shifts? Are the poles reversing? Is our planet stable or should we start building our doomsday caves and space ships? When it seems like there is something abnormal about all this tectonic activity, one needs to defer to the experts on the matter, and they are saying that it is, in fact, nothing unusual.
Taking it from the top of this year, Earth has seen some very devastating earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and higher.
The Solomon Islands, an island chain on the border of the Australian and Pacific plates, was hit with a magnitude 7.1 earthquake on January 3rd leaving many homeless but causing no deaths. The epicenter was the sea floor, so the result was a tsunami approximately 10 feet high. 1,000 people were left homeless and 200 homes were destroyed. This quake was the largest in a series of earthquakes to rock the islands. The tremors finally ceased on January 9th.
Haiti's magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12th was by far the most devastating, hitting the impoverished capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, leaving an astonishing death toll of over 230,000 people and affecting millions of survivors. In terms of damage, it is perhaps the worst natural disaster in the western hemisphere, and the worst since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The aftermath was an enormous challenge because the earthquake was so catastrophic. Relief aid is still critical and will be for some time to come.
The nation of Chile suffered the largest earthquake of the year on February 27th. It had a magnitude of 8.8, and centered just off the coast of the Maule Region of Chile. The 90 second earthquake was felt strongly in six of Chile's regions, containing over 80% of the population. It was detected north to Peru, and as far east as Buenos Aires in Argentina. The earthquake caused 486 deaths, widespread damage and chaos in the streets. It also triggered a tsunami that devastated several coastal towns in Chile and around the Pacific.
The Ryukyu Islands in Japan experienced a 7.0 earthquake on March 8th. This under-reported event caused minimal damage and just a large wave. People were evacuated, but the only damage was a few pipes.
The Mexicali Valley in Baja California of Mexico was struck on April 4th with a 7.2 magnitude quake that was felt across the western United States and northwest Mexico. It was the strongest to rock Southern California since the 1992 Landers earthquake. Fortunately, the death toll was low, but there was damage in cities as far as San Diego, California as well as widespread power outages.
On April 7th, the Indonesian island of Sumatra was hit with a 7.7 magnitude earthquake off its west coast. However, unlike the apocalyptic earthquake in 2004 that caused the great Indian Ocean Tsunami that reached heights of 100 feet and killed over 230,000 people, this recent quake caused merely a 40 cm surge and 62 injuries. The 2004 quake was the second largest ever recorded on a seismograph at 9.3 magnitude. It vibrated the whole planet as much as 1 cm and triggered earthquakes as far away as Alaska.
Western China suffered a tragic 6.9 magnitude earthquake on April 13th that killed nearly 2,000 people and injuring another 15,000. The epicenter was on rough terrain in a sparsely populated part Yushu County, near the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Chinese government has mobilized the army to oversee the aftermath and recovery.
Finally, even though it was not an earthquake, the Iceland volcanic eruption still deserves mention as it is an event triggered by seismic activity. The volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, blew its top on April 14th and caused a vast cloud of dust and ash to cover Europe and the North Atlantic. This has led to widespread disruption of air travel in Europe. Air travelers and the airline industry are still reeling from the aftermath of the eruption. Red sunsets have also been seen across all of Europe.
So what are scientists saying at the US Geological Survey? They say 2010 is not showing signs of unusually high earthquake activity. Since 1990, there have been on average 16 magnitude 7.0 earthquakes per year, with a low of 6 and high of 32. So far in April, standing at 6 magnitude 7.0 quakes, this year is on pace to be average.
"While the number of earthquakes is within normal range, this does not diminish the fact that there has been extreme devastation and loss of life in heavily populated areas," said USGS Associate Coordinator for Earthquake Hazards Dr. Michael Blanpied.
For more information, click on link for the USGS Website.