The Wild File: Seismic Activity

Natural Disaster     Photo: Illustration by Yuko Shimizu

Q. What's with all the seismic activity lately? Is there a pattern here?

A. With the 7.0-magnitude quake in Haiti on January 12, followed five weeks later by an 8.8 in Chile and a slew of quakes in China, Taiwan, Mexico, and Turkey, plus volcanoes blowing their tops in Iceland and Alaska, that's a tempting conclusion. But it turns out that 2010 isn't more seismically active than any other year, according to Michael Blanpied, associate coordinator for earthquake hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey. As of July, the USGS had identified 47 significant earthquakes this year, which is not abnormal. What's abnormal is that several of them were centered near densely populated cities. In other words, even though the Haiti and Chile quakes occurred only weeks apart, they were unrelated.

"Earthquakes beget aftershocks by stressing the next piece of the fault chain, and big earthquakes can cause big aftershocks," says Blanpied. "But fault systems around the world are fairly independent of one another. Any way you try to slice the global earthquake catalog, it all looks random." That is, unless the slicing is being done by Iranian cleric Kazem Sediqi, who blamed the shaking on immodest women. In response, on April 26, Purdue University senior Jennifer McCreight organized Boobquake, a day of gratuitous cleavage across college campuses.

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