Worldwide earthquakes seeing rise in magnitude—Why?

Seismic activity of earthquakes on the Richter scale shows significant increases in magnitude in recent years.

Seismic activity of earthquakes on the Richter scale shows significant increases in magnitude in recent years.

The Solomon Islands experienced a major earthquake Sunday, April 13, 2014. The earthquake registered a 7.6 magnitude on the Richter scale and hit at 7:14 a.m. local time. Its epicenter was located 200 miles southeast of Honiara, the Solomon’s capital. A tsunami warning was initially released, but soon dismissed. The Solomon Islands event is just one of the latest earthquakes in the world, with seismic activity occurring along fault lines in North and Central America.

Earthquakes rocking the South Pacific

Originally, the Solomon Islands earthquake was said to have an 8.3 magnitude, but was later downgraded to 7.6. Allie Goolrick wrote “7.6 Earthquake Rocks Solomon Islands” for weather.com April 14, 2014, which reported, “At least three strong aftershocks were reported after the initial earthquake measuring at 4.9 and above.” The Solomon Islands lie within an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim known as the ‘Ring of Fire.’”

Despite the cancelling of the tsunami warning, the earthquake has still caused large waves. Officials say that these do not pose a threat to Hawaii or the West Coast of the United States.

The Solomon Islands earthquake follows flash floods that struck the island nation earlier in April, resulting in 23 deaths and leaving 9,000 people homeless.

Oklahoma’s fault lines

Seismic activity has been on a serious uptick in the state of Oklahoma lately. More than 100 earthquakes with a magnitude above 3.0 on the Richter scale occurred in 2013. That is a significant increase from previous years. For instance, from 1991 to 2008, the state had no more than three earthquakes of that magnitude a year.

Carey Gillam reported for Reuters.com, “In Oklahoma, water, fracking—and a swarm of quakes,” November 13, 2013, about the increase in earthquakes in the state and the suspected cause—fracking. Some of the quakes in September 2013 occurred “near a newly opened injection well in the southern part of the state” Gillam wrote.

Oklahoma is not alone in this increase in seismic activity. “Since 2001 the average annual number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater has jumped ‘significantly’ across the midsection of the country, including not just Oklahoma but also Ohio, Arkansas and Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Interior,” Gillam added. There also have been recent earthquakes in Chile, Panama and Southern California, although none of those are linked to fracking.

Earthquake facts and misconceptions

Heard the one about animals being able to sense seismic activity? According to Lily Hay Newman’s blog post on Slate.com April 4, 2014, “Sorry, Animals Aren’t Pre-emptively Fleeing the Yellowstone Supervolcano,” animals do not know when the fault lines beneath them start moving. She wrote, “There is evidence that seconds before an earthquake, animals begin feeling a type of wave that humans can’t, and they may begin to react.” But this notice is at best a few seconds.

California’s Department of Conservation shares some other common earthquake myths in “Earthquake Mythology”:

  • Earthquakes do not occur only during hot and dry weather.
  • Earthquakes do not always occur during the early morning hours.
  • The ground does not open up and swallow people, although ground settling can cause fissures that people and things can fall into.
  • The doorway is not the safest place to be and is not any stronger than other parts of a home.
  • Small earthquakes do not prevent larger ones from happening.
  • The magnitude of the earthquake’s damage determines the amount of assistance, not the magnitude of the quake itself.
  • Earthquakes aren’t happening more, we just have more seismological centers capable of measuring lower seismic activity.

If you live in an area that is known for earthquakes, you can prepare by putting together an earthquake kit with food, water, a flashlight and other emergency items. It is also good to develop an earthquake plan and practice “drop, cover and hold on” drills should an earthquake happen.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake? What did you do to keep safe? Let us know in the comments below.

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