Local News

Quakes not out of the ordinary, scientists say

Posted March 8, 2010 10:53 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2010 5:08 p.m. EST

— First the ground shook in Haiti, then Chile and now Turkey. The earthquakes keep coming hard and fast this year, causing some people to wonder if earthquake frequency is off the norm. 

While it may seem as if there are more earthquakes occurring, there really aren't, according to seismologist Jonathan Lees, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“None of these earthquakes are unusual. They’re completely normal,” Lees said.

On average, there are 134 earthquakes a year that have a magnitude between a 6.0 and 6.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This year is off to a fast start with 40 so far – more than in most years for that time period. However, Lees said the higher number is nothing more than coincidence.

“There’s no pattern,” he said. “These (quakes) are occurring all over the Earth. There are going to be big earthquakes in Chile all the time. They could have another one tomorrow.”

Less than two weeks ago, an 8.8 magnitude quake – the fifth-strongest since 1900 – killed more than 900 people in Chile. Last month, a 7.0 magnitude quake killed more than 230,000 people in Haiti.

The most recent earthquake happened Monday in rural eastern Turkey. A pre-dawn quake collapsed homes and killed at least 51 people, government officials said.

Lees said it's not the number of quakes, but their devastating impacts that gain attention with the death tolls largely due to shoddy construction. He said better better construction standards are needed, particularly along active plate boundaries.

“We know that the big earthquakes will come at some time,” he explained. “We can try to engineer our way out of these disasters.”

Paul Earle, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said more people are also moving into megacities that happen to be built on fault lines.

Of the 130 cities worldwide with more than 1 million people, more than half are on fault lines, making them more prone to earthquakes, according to The Associated Press.