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Magnitude 8.8 earthquake strikes Chile

South American plates (copyright US Geological Survey)

A massive earthquake has struck Chile, killing more than 700 people. The quake hit at 3.34 local time on Saturday morning, 27 February, approximately 8km west of Curanipe and 115 km north-northeast of Conceptión, Chile’s second largest city.

Geoscientist online, 1 March 2010

The magnitude 8.8 quake is the eighth most powerful ever recorded. It occurred along the Nazca-South American fault, where the Nazca plate is sliding beneath the South American plate at a rate of around 8cm per year. It is this relatively rapid subduction that is responsible for forming the Andes mountains, as well as bringing about earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The earthquake is not related to the quake which devestated Haiti in January. Whilst it is considerably more powerful than the Haitian quake, it has had a less devastating effect because the epicentre was offshore, and not as shallow as that of the quake that struck Haiti.

In addition, Chile is better prepared for seismic activity, having experienced it numerous times in the past. Buildings are designed to withstand tremors, and a disaster relief force was deployed within hours of the earthquake.

Nevertheless, the earthquake has devastated parts of the country, and killed over 700 people. More than 100 aftershocks have followed, including one of magnitude 6.1 early on Sunday.

Whilst resulting tsunamis have not been as severe as was initially feared, several people on a Chilean island have been killed by a tsunami which has devastated coastal areas near the epicentre.

Further information about the earthquake can be obtained from the British Geological Survey’s Seismic Hazards Team in Edinburgh.

Telephone: 0131 667 1000
Email: [email protected].

Technical information can be obtained from the website of the United States Geological Survey.

For further information about Chilean tectonics, please read the introduction by Bob Pankhurst below.
Since the initial magnitude 8.8 earthquake, 284 aftershocks with magnitudes greater than 4.5 have been recorded. The BGS have produced a PDF showing the distribution of aftershocks that can be downloaded below.