Earthquake Report: Chile!

Well, we had another earthquake in the region of a recent (yesterday and the day before) swarm offshore of Valparaiso, Chile (almost due west of Santiago, one of the largest cities in Chile). My previous report on the M 4-5 earthquakes can be found here. The earlier swarm was a series of shallower earthquakes (though some were of intermediate depth and some were deeper). The M 6.9 earthquake, in contrast, is deeper and likely on the megathrust. The slab contours are at 20 km and the hypocentral depth is 25 km (pretty good match considering the uncertainty with the location of the megathrust). Another difference is that the M 6.9 has a greater potential (likelihood, or chance) to damage people or their belongings.

Here are the USGS websites for these earthquakes

  • 2017.04.22 22:46 M 4.9
  • 2017.04.23 01:49 M 4.5
  • 2017.04.23 02:36 M 5.9 (mainshock)
  • 2017.04.23 02:43 M 4.8
  • 2017.04.23 02:52 M 4.8
  • 2017.04.23 03:00 M 4.8
  • 2017.04.23 03:02 M 4.9
  • 2017.04.23 19:40 M 5.6
  • 2017.04.24 21:38 M 6.9 (triggered mainshock)

I took a look at the seismicity from the past century. Here are Google Earth kml files from the USGS website for earthquakes from 1917-2017 with magnitudes M ≥ 5.0, M ≥ 6.0, and M ≥ 7.0.

Below is my interpretive poster for this earthquake.

I plot the seismicity from the past month, with color representing depth and diameter representing magnitude (see legend). I include the USGS epicenters for earthquakes from 1917-2017 with magnitudes M ≥ 6.0. I outline the regions of the subduction zone that have participated in earthquake slip during the 21st century (in white dashed polygons). I include USGS moment tensors from the largest earthquakes. I plot the focal mechanism for the 1960 earthquake from Moreno et al. (2011). Note the gap in seismicity in the region of the 1960 M 9.5 earthquake, except for the 2016 M 7.6 earthquake. Also, note how the 1960 and 2010 earthquake slip patches overlap.

Much of the subduction zone has ruptured, except for some spots between the 2001 and 2015 earthquakes. In 2015, I speculated that the region north of the 2015 earthquakes constituted a seismic gap. This region may get filled by a Great subduction zone earthquake or may continue to slip in moderate sized earthquakes (or be aseismic). There was an earthquake in 1877 that spanned 19-23 degrees (overlapping with the 2014 earthquake). This is shown on the Schurr et al. (2014) figure below).

  • I placed a moment tensor / focal mechanism legend on the poster. There is more material from the USGS web sites about moment tensors and focal mechanisms (the beach ball symbols). Both moment tensors and focal mechanisms are solutions to seismologic data that reveal two possible interpretations for fault orientation and sense of motion. One must use other information, like the regional tectonics, to interpret which of the two possibilities is more likely.
  • I also include the shaking intensity contours on the map. These use the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI; see the legend on the map). This is based upon a computer model estimate of ground motions, different from the “Did You Feel It?” estimate of ground motions that is actually based on real observations. The MMI is a qualitative measure of shaking intensity. More on the MMI scale can be found here and here. This is based upon a computer model estimate of ground motions, different from the “Did You Feel It?” estimate of ground motions that is actually based on real observations.
  • I include the slab contours plotted (Hayes et al., 2012), which are contours that represent the depth to the subduction zone fault. These are mostly based upon seismicity. The depths of the earthquakes have considerable error and do not all occur along the subduction zone faults, so these slab contours are simply the best estimate for the location of the fault.

    I include some inset figures in the poster.

  • In the lower left corner, I include a map and a cross section of the subduction zone just to the south of this Sept/Nov 2015 swarm (Melnick et al., 2006). I placed a green triangle at the approximate location of this 2017 swarm.
  • In the upper right corner I present Figure 2 from Beck et al. (1998 ) on the map, the space-time plot of historic and prehistoric earthquakes associated with the Chile subduction zone. I add a green line showing my interpretation for the strike length of the 2015 M 8.3 earthquake. Originally it appeared to match the 1943 and 1880 earthquakes, though it appears to extend further along strike. The 1922 and 1880 strike lengths are not well constrained, so this 2015 earthquake may indeed be slipping the same patch of this part of the subduction zone. Indeed, Juan Fernandez Ridge may be a structural boundary that may cause segmentation in this part of the subduction zone. If it does, it does not do so every time, as evidenced by the strike-length of the 1730 AD and 1647 AD earthquakes. I placed a green triangle at the approximate location of this 2017 swarm. This M 6.9 appears to be correlative in space with the 1985 earthquake (albeit a much smaller magnitude, closer to the 1971 in size).
  • In the lower right corner I include two figures from Moreno et al. (2010). The upper one shows the spatial extent of historic subduction zone earthquakes in this region, the GPS velocities, and the fraction of plate convergence attributed to fault seismogenic coupling. The lower panel shows the amount of slip that is attributed to the 1960 and 2010 earthquakes (on the left) and various measures of seismicity and slip deficit (on the right). I place a green star in the general location of the M 6.9 and a green horizontal bar that matches the latitude of this M 6.9 earthquake.
  • In the upper left corner, I include a local map showing the MMI contours for the M 6.9 earthquake. I include the USGS moment tensors from most of the earthquakes in this swarm, including the M 6.9 earthquake.


  • As mentioned above, this earthquake has the potential to cause more harm than the earlier earthquakes due to its larger magnitude. Below is the USGS report that includes estimates of damage to people (possible fatalities) and their belongings from the Rapid Assessment of an Earthquake’s Impact (PAGER) report. More on the PAGER program can be found here. An explanation of a PAGER report can be found here. PAGER reports are modeled estimates of damage. On the top is a histogram showing estimated casualties and on the right is an estimate of possible economic losses. This PAGER report suggests that there will be quite a bit of damage from this earthquake (and casualties). This earthquake has a high probability of damage to people and their belongings.

  • UPDATE: Below are some observations of the tsunami. This comes from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

  • Here is the figure from Lin et al. (2013) that shows the tectonic context of the 2010 Maule earthquake. I include the figure captions as blockquote.

  • (a) Regional tectonic map showing slab isodepth contours (blue lines) [Cahill and Isacks, 1992], M>=4 earthquakes from the National Earthquake Information Center catalog between 1976 and 2011 (yellow circles for depths less than 50 km, and blue circles for depths greater than 50 km), active volcanoes (red triangles), and the approximate extent of large megathrust earthquakes during the past hundred years (red ellipses) modified from Campos et al. [2002]. The large white vector represents the direction of Nazca Plate with respect to stable South America [Kendrick et al., 2003]. (b) Simplified seismo-tectonic map of the study area. Major Quaternary faults are modified after Melnick et al. [2009] (black lines). The Neogene Deformation Front is modified from Folguera et al. [2004]. The west-vergent thrust fault that bounds the west of the Andes between 32 and 38S is modified from Melnick et al. [2009]. (c) Schematic cross-section along line A–A0 (Figure 1b), modified from Folguera and Ramos [2009]. The upper bound of the coseismic slip coincides with the boundary between the frontal accretionary prism and the paleo-accretionary prism [Contreras-Reyes et al., 2010], whereas the contact between the coseismic and postseismic patch is from this study. The thick solid red line and dashed red line on top of the slab represent the approximate coseismic and postseismic plus interseismic slip section of the subduction interface. The thin red and grey lines within the overriding plate are active and inactive structures in the retroarc, modified from Folguera and Ramos [2009]. The red dashed line underneath the Andean Block represents the regional décollement. Background seismicity is from the TIPTEQ catalog, recorded between November 2004 and October 2005 [Rietbrock et al., 2005; Haberland et al., 2009].

  • Here is a cross section of the subduction zone just to the south of this Sept/Nov 2015 swarm (Melnick et al., 2006). Below I include the text from the Melnick et al. (2006) figure caption as block text.

  • (A) Seismotectonic segments, rupture zones of historical subduction earthquakes, and main tectonic features of the south-central Andean convergent margin. Earthquakes were compiled from Lomnitz (1970, 2004), Kelleher (1972), Comte et al. (1986), Cifuentes (1989), Beck et al. (1998), and Campos et al. (2002). Nazca plate and trench are from Bangs and Cande (1997) and Tebbens and Cande (1997). Maximum extension of glaciers is from Rabassa and Clapperton (1990). F.Z.—fracture zone. (B) Regional morphotectonic units, Quaternary faults, and location of the study area. Trench and slope have been interpreted from multibeam bathymetry and seismic-reflection profiles (Reichert et al., 2002). (C) Profile of the offshore Chile margin at ~37°S, indicated by thick stippled line on the map and based on seismic-reflection profiles SO161-24 and ENAP-017. Integrated Seismological experiment in the Southern Andes (ISSA) local network seismicity (Bohm et al., 2002) is shown by dots; focal mechanism is from Bruhn (2003). Updip limit of seismogenic coupling zone from heat-fl ow measurements (Grevemeyer et al., 2003). Basal accretion of trench sediments from sandbox models (Lohrmann, 2002; Glodny et al., 2005). Convergence parameters from Somoza (1998 ).

  • Here is the first of two figures from Moreno et al., 2010. Note that the M 6.9 is close in space to the 1985 earthquake. I include the figure caption below in blockquote.

  • Tectonic setting of the study area, data, observations and results. a, Shaded relief map of the Andean subduction zone in South- Central Chile. Earthquake segmentation along the margin is indicated by ellipses that enclose the approximate rupture areas of historic earthquakes (updated from refs 4–6). The inset shows the location of panel a (rectangle) relative to the South American continent. b, Compilation of GPS-observed surface velocities (1996–2008) with respect to stable South America before the 2010 Maule earthquake (for references see online-only Methods). Ellipses attached to the arrows represent 95% confidence limits. c, GPS 1 FEM modelled interface locking (fraction of plate convergence) distribution along the Andean subduction zone megathrust in the decade before the 2010 Maule earthquake. The epicentre (white star, USGS NEIC) and focal mechanism (beach ball, GCMT, http://www.globalcmt.org) of the 2010 Maule earthquake are shown in panels a and c.

  • Here is the second of the two figures from Moreno et al. (2010).

  • Relationship between pre, co- and postseismic deformation patterns. a, Coseismic slip distribution during the 2010 (blue contours; USGS slip model26) and 1960 (green contours; from ref. 30) earthquakes overlain onto pre-seismic locking pattern (red shading $0.75), as well as early (during the first 48 h post-shock) M$5 aftershock locations (the grey circle sizes scale with magnitude; GEOFON data29). b, Histograms of early (first 48 h; total number of events, 80) and late (first 3 months; total number of events, 168) aftershock density along a north–south profile (GEOFON data29, M$5). c, Residual slip deficits since 1835 as observed after the 2010 earthquake along a north–south profile (left column, based on the USGS slip model26). The middle and right columns show the effects on slip deficit of overlapping twentieth-century earthquakes (the black lines are polynomial fits to the data). Coloured data points and dates indicate earthquakes by year of occurrence.

  • Here is the Beck et al. (1998) space time diagram.

Here is an animation of seismicity from the 21st century

  • Here is a download link to the embedded video below. (7 MB mp4)

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