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Chile earthquake: The next Big One?

So: Is this the Next Big One?

Here's what we can say at the moment: There's a lot of devastation in the images on CNN. You see crumbled buildings, collapsed highways, major fires. This was certainly a huge quake. About three million people were subjected to extreme shaking, and another 12 million to very strong shaking, according to a USGS email circulating this morning. That said, Chile is not nearly as vulnerable to quakes, from an infrastructure standpoint, as most other South American countries. This wasn't nearly as powerful as the 1960 quake.

Here's an email I got from Susan Hough, a USGS seismologist, this morning:

"3 million people exposed to MMI 8 is not good. The shaking level is largely an estimate and may be too high: there is some evidence that big subduction zone quakes produce relatively low levels of shaking for their magnitude. And construction in Chile is better than Port au Prince, although a big step down from Japan and California. So hopefully this won't be another Haiti."

More: "1960 was the biggest quake ever recorded by seismometers, estimated Mw9.5. Yesterday's quake is about an order of magnitude smaller in terms of energy release and is expected to be a factor of ~3 smaller in the extent of the region exposed to strongest shaking; also a factor of ~3 smaller in shaking duration (important for damage)."

From a USGS email this morning:

This earthquake occurred at the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates. The two plates are converging at a rate of 80 mm per year. The earthquake occurred as thrust-faulting on the interface between the two plates, with the Nazca plate moving down and landward below the South American plate.

Coastal Chile has a history of very large earthquakes. The February 27 shock originated about 230 km north of the source region of the magnitude 9.5 earthquake of May, 1960-the largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in the world. This great earthquake killed 1655 people in southern Chile and unleashed a tsunami that crossed the Pacific, killing 61 people in Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines. Approximately 870 km to the north of the February 27 earthquake is the source region of the magnitude 8.5 earthquake of November, 1922. This great quake significantly impacted central Chile, killing several hundred people and causing severe property damage. The 1922 quake generated a 9-meter local tsunami that inundated the Chile coast near the town of Coquimbo; the tsunami also crossed the Pacific, washing away boats in Hilo harbor, Hawaii. The magnitude 8.8 earthquake of February 27, 2010 ruptured the portion of the South American subduction zone separating these two massive historical earthquakes.

A large vigorous aftershock sequence can be expected from this earthquake.

The following locations have tsunami warnings:


By Joel Achenbach  |  February 27, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
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Next: Pacific tsunami: Half the planet affected


Thanks, Joel, for providing such good information. The phrase "A large vigorous aftershock sequence" is certainly foreboding.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 27, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Lots of info coming in from a lot of sources. Thank you for keeping us updated, Mr. A.

Posted by: MsJS | February 27, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I am trying to determine how well the city of Valdivia fared through this terrible event. I believe it's about 400-500 miles from the epicenter. Various news reports mention Concepcion, but that is a few hundred miles to the north.

Posted by: mahajohn | February 27, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse


I was channel surfing, to the limited extent possible to find quake coverage since we're on an austerity budget of sorts and no longer get CNN and other 24-hour cable news fare. We subscribe to the most basic of cable TV services. *long story, issues*

Here's what I gather while eating breakfast with the sound off (for meal peace) and the images on, courtesy of the Spanish-language broadcast.

Presidenta Batchelet was already up in the air this morning surveying damage to her quake-stricken county.

Apparently (again, Spanish slightly rusty) it was Ecuador that issued the evacuation order for the Galapagos Islands.

There are now better pictures of the quake damage with the full light of day. These images now show the extensive damage to one of the hospitals in the southern part of Chile. There is extensive damage to one of the bridges in Chile crossing a large river. Somne huge grain silos are crumpled, as though the Jolly Green Giant squeezed them with one of his powerful hands. Large piles of spilled grain where the silos collapsed.

How will Hillary's upcoming trip to Latin America fare?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit five Latin American nations next week, seeking to foster relationships with some newly elected leaders and cement ties with others. ...

Clinton will bid farewell to President Michelle Bachelet, Chile's popular leader who will be leaving with high approval ratings for steering her country through the global economic downturn and promoting progressive social reforms. Under Chile's constitutional term limits, a president cannot run for a second consecutive term.

Posted by: laloomis | February 27, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

And of course, SpongeBob was created by a graduate of Humboldt State. See the A-blog archines.

Posted by: laloomis | February 27, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I just found this about a 6.9 earthquake near Okinawa Island, Japan about 8 hours (I think) before the Chile quake.,9-earthquake-shakes-southern-Japan,-tsunami-warning-issued

Posted by: MsJS | February 27, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Just sent an email to Brag; not sure what the infrastructure is like, so who knows if he'll get it. We haven't seen him around these parts for a few weeks, though, have we? Maybe he's been traveling out of the country.

Sometimes we get a great illustration of how much more beautiful Spanish is than English. Chile's president has declared a "state of catastrophe." Sounds so much better than just a plan old American "state of emergency."

Posted by: -TBG- | February 27, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Funny as hell. Wonder what Chile dogs taste like down there today.

Posted by: FridayKnight | February 27, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Heard some of the first reports about the quake on BBC World Service, courtesy of the local public radio station... An order of magnitude less than that 9.5 monster in 1960 is still far beyond any of our experience.

Oh, and hi all. Skiing was fine, and everyone came through the "tropical blizzard" fine up here. Should be back in the heart of BoodleLand in a couple hours. Much review of Kits and Boodles to do, I see.

*not-entirely-opposed-to-getting-back-into-a-normal-routine Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 27, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

And of course I hope Brag's OK!!!

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 27, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Joel: "That said, Chile is not nearly as vulnerable to quakes, from an infrastructure standpoint, as most other South American countries."


Hough: "... And construction in Chile is better than Port au Prince, although a big step down from Japan and California. So hopefully this won't be another Haiti."

A quick check of the globe in our home office shows Haiti to be north of the equator, a good bit north. So how is South America defined? By continent? So, are you saying that Chile is more prosperous and greater wealth, more advanced in its buildings and construction materials, with more inspectors, than say other countries on the South American continent, including those that lie above the equator--Columbia and Venezuela the larger of those above the equator? Just askin'.

Where is Isabel Allende when you need her?

"Inés of My Soul" by Isabel Allende. The novelization of the grand romantic saga of Doña Inés Suárez (1507-1580), Chile's founding mother.

Posted by: laloomis | February 27, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

CNN's simultaneously-translated TV from Concepcion is encouraging in that broadcast news is being done there. Discouraging in that there's obviously lots of damage. Hurricane coverage is sometimes misleading because the cameras linger on the most interesting damage while ignoring great swaths of intact buildings. Locally, the Big Victims were poorly-built oceanfront structures of recent vintage. Ordinary houses across the street were unfazed.

It's a sure thing that the expert volunteer network that examined post earthquake satellite imagery for Haiti will be doing a much larger job this time because of the huge land area that's been affected.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 27, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, MSJS, Tim caught the news of that quake southeast of Okinawa about dinnertime yesterday.

Posted by: laloomis | February 27, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Relevant to past kits, another company has dropped Mr. Woods.

Posted by: MsJS | February 27, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Front Page Alert, BTW...

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 27, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Thank my ancestors, the Greeks.

Word History: Today's word is Greek katastrophe "an overturning, ruin, conclusion", transliterated letter for letter from Greek. The Greek word comes from katastrephein "to ruin, undo", a verb based on kata- "down, against, apart" + strephein "to turn". While we were tracing Greek words, we also copied strophe "stanza, group of repeated lines in poetry", without the prefix kata-. One final word from this root is strobos "whirling, whirlwind", which we at least Anglicized into strobe for strobe light.

The word derives from Middle French désastre and that from Old Italian disastro, which in turn comes from the Greek pejorative prefix δυσ-, (dus-) "bad"[3] + ἀστήρ (aster), "star".[4] The root of the word disaster ("bad star" in Greek) comes from an astrological theme in which the ancients used to refer to the destruction or deconstruction of a star as a disaster.

Posted by: laloomis | February 27, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Economically, Chile is a poor country compared to the US. The Economist's "Pocket World in Figures, 2010 Edition" says GDP per head in terms of purchasing power parity is 30.4% of the US. Argentina is 29.0 %, Brazil 21.0% Colombia 18.8%, Puerto Rico 40.1%.

In terms of quality of life, Chile lies between Poland and Slovakia. Chile lags behind both in terms of purchasing power per head.

Chile is famous for its lack of corruption and for the national government's shrewd management of fluctuating revenues from the country's copper and other mines.

I wonder whether infrastructure damage might severely hurt the fruit export business. It's gotten to the point that Chilean fruits are often more available than the domestic variety. Lots and lots of Chilean avocados.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 27, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to note that the ocean bottom in and near the Hilo, HI harbor is shaped like agiant funnel aimed at Chile. It magnifies the effect of any tsunami coming from Chile.

We were living in Honolulu when the 1960 earthquake and tsunami occurred. My father had a business trip to Hilo that morning and took pictures of the devastation. Downtown Hilo was a mess, but Waikiki on Oahu suffered no damage.

Posted by: rlguenther | February 27, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Brag moved to Santiago because he can live there with a much higher quality of life with his income than he did here in the US.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 27, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Why, here she is!

"In Europe very few people had ever heard of Chile, but the country became fashionable four years later, with the election of Salvador Allende. It was in the news again in 1973 because of the military coup, then because of the human rights violations, and eventually because of the arrest of the former dictator in London in 1998. Every time our country has made news, it has been for major political events, except for brief notes on the occasion of an earthquake. When someone in Europe asked my nationality in the sixties, I had to give long explanations and draw a map to demonstrate Chile is at the southern tip of South America, not in the heart of Asia. It was often confused with China because of the somewhat similar name. The Belgians, used to the idea of colonies in Africa, were surprised that my husband spoke English and that I wasn't black. Once they asked me why I didn't wear traditional garb; they may have been thinking of Carmen Miranda's costumes in Hollywood movies: a multiruffled skirt and basket of pineapples on her head. We traveled through Europe from Scandinavian to the south of Spain in a beat-up Volkswagen, sleeping in a tent and eating sausages, horse meat, and fried potatoes. It was a year of frenetic touring."

--Isabel Allende in her 2003 "My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile," p. 129, as housed in my library.

Posted by: laloomis | February 27, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Good sources of info here...

Posted by: -TBG- | February 27, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

TBG, glad you emailed Brag please let us know as soon as you here anything. Just saw the news and thought of him. Hoping for the best.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 27, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"Hawaii prepares evacuations ahead of tsunami"

Hawaii has plenty of high ground to evacuate to. Tuvalu, Vanuatu, French Polynesia et al., not so much.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 27, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm worried about Brag, too. Glad you emailed him, TBG. Hope to hear from MiddleofthePacific, too.

Yep, Mother Earth is cracking up, trying so hard to get our attention.

Gorgeous day today down here. I've done my errands and shall settle into some (sadly) inside the house work this afternoon -- it does need to be done, after all.

I don't know about anybody else around here, but I've gotten Oly-fatigue. Well, maybe just Oly-broadcast-fatigue. At least next week, I can go to bed early and not think I've missed something important.

Toodley Boodley till later.

Posted by: -ftb- | February 27, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

We have good local news, pleasure now muted by cataclysm

Michael Jordan now controls the Charlotte Bobcats pro basketball team.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 27, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Civil defense sirens going off here on Oahu, more cars out than usual on a Saturday morning. I'm already awake though, thanks to the neighborhood rooster. (P.S. noticed Hawaii isn't on the quakes map attached to the Next Big One article)

Posted by: zan20 | February 27, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

MSNBC reports that the U.S. Navy says the tsunami that hits Hiolo will be "only" about 2 feet high (meaning less than previously feared).

This may be the first time we've had major warning of a tsunami to the extent that major media are/can be prepared to film it and cover it live as it comes ashore.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 27, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

MSNBC reports a NOAA buoy 2,900 nautical miles SE from Hilo has detected the tsunami. So it is on its way. No height given.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 27, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I don't know much about this so I will ask the smartest group I know, the tsunami the strength of it, is it something that maintains its power as it travels or does it strengthen/weaken? What factors could affect it?

Good thoughts going out to all.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 27, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

New Kit!

Posted by: MsJS | February 27, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Generally the tsunami weakens over distance, but we're talking such long distances that it takes a lot of distance to do any serious attenuation. The next factor is what the littoral in front of the land mass looks like, whether it is a long, shallow area such as the US east coast, or basically deep water that shoals fast. Then the nature of the coast line it hits: low and flat, mountainous, etc.

Then there is the problem that it doesn't have to be very tall to do a lot of damage. Remember the Christmas tsunami several years ago in Thailand? It wasn't very high-- only three or four feet, IIRC. But it just came in and washed everything away for long distances.

If the Navy report that it is "only" two feet in open ocean is accurate, there is still the problem of what size it becomes when it hits a shoaling beach: it will surely build. You know those massive waves surfers ride on the North Shore of Hawaii? Those waves are massive only because of the way perfectly normal waves build when they hit that shallow.

They are still talking about a 6- or 7-foot wave hitting Hilo, which I guess is how they expect the 2-foot open-ocean swell to build when it hits the coastline.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 27, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Well said. It ain't just the height, it's how long that tsunami is. Very hard to fathom just how much water is traveling like a train right behind that "two feet high" wave.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | February 27, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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