Mega-Quake: Earthquake in Chile

Not long after the devastation of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake which left over a million people homeless and 200,000 dead in Haiti, an earthquake nearing 100 times more powerful struck the South American country of Chile.  This 8.8 magnitude earthquake broke the top ten list of most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, placing at number six.  The earthquake occurred at approximately 3:30am on Saturday, February 27th, 2010 with its epicenter located about 200 miles southwest of Chile’s capital city Santiago, with its focus about 20 miles beneath the surface.  The earthquake was so powerful, it triggered a tsunami which traveled over 6,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii at approximately 500 miles per hour.

While this earthquake is truly disastrous, it was hardly unexpected.  Like the Haitian earthquake of last month, this earthquake occurred along the boundary of two lithospheric plates.  In this case, the earthquake occurred where the Nazca Plate is subducting below the South American Plate at a rate of 80 millimeters (just over 3 inches) per year.  This plate boundary is part of the “Ring of Fire”, named for the near continuous convergent plate boundaries which surround most of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in much of the world’s occurrences of earthquakes and volcanoes.  The world’s largest recorded earthquake in recent history, of a massive 9.5 magnitude, occurred along this same boundary in May of 1960 only 140 miles to the south.

Why is it that the Chile earthquake was less destructive as the Haitian earthquake, even though it was much more powerful?  The answer to this lies almost directly in the differences in the economies between each country.  Haiti has little or no building codes, especially those that require seismic protection.  Additionally, they don’t have the capitol to prepare themselves for such a disaster, though they are in a region prone to earthquakes.  Chile’s economy, on the other hand, is much more stable.   They do have building codes and are more prepared for disaster situations.  However, no amount of preparation will make a region disaster-proof.  Chile still experienced over 700 deaths as a result of this earthquake which also left hundreds of thousands homeless.  In addition, infrastructure such as major roadways and bridges gave way, crippling economy even further.  This earthquake may very well cause one of the South America’s most economically stable countries, and the world’s #1 producer of copper, to go into recession.  Therefore, in actuality it is hard to say whether this earthquake was truly less destructive when all is said and done.  The lasting effects will be the deciding factor here.

For more information on the February 27 Chile earthquake and information about earthquakes and tsunamis in general, visit the United States Geological Survey website by clicking the link here or in the sidebar.  Also, I’ve attached a CNN video covering the earthquake and giving some interesting info about earthquakes in general:

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