Over 300 Earthquakes in A Week Has Chile on Edge

March 25, 2014

People wait in high areas after hearing a tsunami alert following a quake in Iquique, 1800 km north of Santiago, Chile, on March 16, 2014. (AFP/GETTY)

An unusual string of more than 300 earthquakes that have rattled Chile's far-northern coast this past week has people on edge. Scientists say there is no way to tell if the unusual string of tremors is a harbinger of an impending disaster.

The unnerving activity began with a strong magnitude-6.7 quake on March 16 that caused more than 100,000 people to briefly evacuate low-lying areas, although no tsunami materialized and there was little physical damage from the shaking.

But the land has not settled down. More than a dozen perceptible quakes were felt in the city of Iquique just on Monday.

(MORE: 6.7 Quake Rocks Chile)

"The situation is out of the ordinary. There's a mix of a string of tremors and their aftershocks that make things more complex to evaluate," Mario Pardo, deputy head of the Universidad de Chile seismology center, told the local newspaper La Tercera. "We can't rule out a larger quake."

Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake and ensuing tsunami in central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes, and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth also happened in Chile — a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.

The last recorded big quake to hit the northern area around Iquique was a devastating magnitude-8.3 in 1877. It unleashed a 24-meter-high (nearly 80-foot-high) tsunami, causing major damage along the Chile-Peru coast and fatalities as far away as Hawaii and Japan.

"The latest string of quakes is noteworthy because the last one happened in this seismic zone more than 130 years ago," said Paulina Gonzalez, an expert on seismic analysis at the Universidad de Santiago. "It's a zone where quakes should happen more often, and they haven't in a very long time."

A major quake in the country's north would be a potential threat to the economy of Chile, which is the world's top copper producing nation. Most of the Chilean mining industry is in the northern regions.

Chile's worrisome seismic activity can be traced to just off the country's 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) Pacific coast, where the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes. The 2010 quake released so much energy it shortened the Earth's day slightly by changing the planet's rotation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Deadliest Earthquakes 1990-2013

India: Sept. 29, 1993

India: Sept. 29, 1993

The first of two of the top-10 deadliest earthquakes of the last 25 years that occurred in India was a 6.2 temblor that killed 9,748, according to the USGS. (DOUGLAS E. CURRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • India: Sept. 29, 1993
  • Turkey: Aug. 17, 1999
  • India: Jan. 26, 2001
  • Japan: March 11, 2011
  • Southeastern Iran: Dec. 26, 2003
  • Iran: June 20, 1990
  • Pakistan: Oct. 8, 2005
  • Eastern Sichuan, China: May 12, 2008
  • Northern Sumatra: Dec. 26, 2004
  • Haiti Earthquake: Jan. 12, 2010

Featured Blogs

Top Ten 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season Events; Paris Climate Talks Ramp Up

By Dr. Jeff Masters
December 1, 2015

The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season is officially over, and it will go into the books as the most memorable hurricane season to occur during a strong El Niño event. More than a week of tough negotiations lies ahead at the UN Climate Conference (COP21), but Monday--the opening day--more than 150 heads of state were on hand, and dozens of them gave speeches, acknowledging the gravity of human-produced climate change and the daunting task of turning it around.

Incredible November Warmth for Portions of the U.S., Europe and Beyond

By Christopher C. Burt
November 10, 2015

The first 10 days of November 2015 have seen record-breaking warmth for many locations in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. while all-time November monthly national heat records have so far been broken in the U.K., Ireland, France, Estonia, Slovenia, and Finland. All-time record heat (for any month) was also observed in parts of Australia and French Guiana. Here is a brief summary.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.