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Archive for July 25th, 2009

The Largest Earthquake

Posted by feww on July 25, 2009

Historic Earthquakes

The Largest Earthquake in the World

  • Region: Chile
  • Date and time: 1960 May 22  At 19:11:14 UTC
  • Magnitude: 9.5
  • Location: 38°15’36.00″S, 72° 9’0.00″W
  • Depth: 60km

chile quake-1960_05_22_loc map

Earthquake Location Map. Source: USGS


  • Some 1,655 people killed
  • 3,000 injured
  • 2,000,000 left homeless
  • $550 million damage in southern Chile [in 1960 dollar]

Tsunami damage

  • Hawaii: Tsunami caused 61 deaths and $75 million damage [most of the damage occurred at Hilo, with the runup height reaching 10.6 m.]
  • Japan: 185 people dead or missing (53 bodies were never found) and $50 million damage  [“Waves as high as 5.5 m struck northern Honshu about 1 day after the quake, where it destroyed more than 1600 homes.”]
  • The Philippines: 32 dead and missing
  • The west coast of the United State: $500,000 damage
  • Damage also occurred on Easter Island and  in the Samoa Islands

valdivia tsunami
Tsunami-Travel-Time of the earthquake of Valdivia, Chile, May 22, 1960. Contours are one hour intervals. Source: NOAA

The tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, east coast of New Zealand, southeastern Australia and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Severe damage from shaking occurred in the Valdivia-Puerto Montt area. Most of the casualties and much of the damage was because of large tsunamis which caused damage along the coast of Chile from Lebu to Puerto Aisen and in many areas of the Pacific Ocean. Puerto Saavedra was completely destroyed by waves which reached heights of 11.5 m (38 ft) and carried remains of houses inland as much as 3 km (2 mi). Wave heights of 8 m (26 ft) caused much damage at Corral.

valdivia - chile quake
Valdivia suffered catastrophic damage because of its proximity to the epicenter of the massive quake. USGS

One to 1.5 m (3-5 ft) of subsidence occurred along the Chilean coast from the south end of the Arauco Peninsula to Quellon on Chiloe Island. As much of 3 m (10 ft) of uplift occurred on Isla Guafo. Many landslides occurred in the Chilean Lake District from Lago Villarica to Lago Todos los Santos.

Eruption of Puyehue - 1960
On May 24, Volcan Puyehue erupted, sending ash and steam as high as 6,000 m. The eruption continued for several weeks.

This quake was preceded by 4 foreshocks bigger than magnitude 7.0, including a magnitude 7.9 on May 21 that caused severe damage in the Concepcion area. Many aftershocks occurred, with 5 of magnitude 7.0 or greater through Nov 1.

This is the largest earthquake of the 20th Century. The rupture zone is estimated to be about 1000 km long, from Lebu to Puerto Aisen.

Note that the tsunami deaths from outside Chile are included in the 1,655 total. This is still considerably fewer than some estimates which were as high as 5,700. However, Rothe and others state that the initial reports were greatly overestimated. The death toll for this huge earthquake was less than it might have been because it it occurred in the middle of the afternoon, many of the structures had been built to be earthquake-resistant and the series of strong foreshocks had made the population wary.

More photos are available at Great Chile Earthquake of May 22, 1960 – Anniversary Edition

[Note: FEWW estimates that if an earthquake of similar magnitude struck, say, New York City about 3 million people could perish.]

total seismic moment released by earthquakes 1906-2005
This pie chart shows how the total seismic moment released by earthquakes over the period 1906-2005 was distributed, with the largest individual earthquakes (left side) and groups of earthquakes (right side). The thin sliver of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake is also depicted for comparison purposes. Mw designates an earthquake’s magnitude on the moment magnitude scale.

Earthquakes referenced in this chart:

  • Alaska (1964): Good Friday Earthquake
  • Chile (1960): Great Chilean Earthquake
  • San Francisco (1906): 1906 San Francisco earthquake
  • Sumatra (2004): 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
  • Author Richard Aster (New Mexico Tech) created this figure using the resources of the IRIS Consortium and the USGS. Additional data was generously provided by Lynn Sykes of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University.

    FEWW Forecast: An earthquake of magnitude 9.2 Mw or greater may occur this year.

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    Qantas pilots nix flight as cabin loses pressure

    Posted by feww on July 25, 2009

    Qantas pilots land plane as cabin pressure falls at 7,000 m

    Following a spate of mishaps that have plagued Qantas flights in recent weeks, including incidents of lightening strikes,  a flight was canceled today after plane lost cabin pressure.

    qantas flight
    Pilots of a Qantas plane abandoned flight to Brisbane today after a mechanical fault led to loss of cabin pressure following take-off from Auckland, New Zealand. (July 25, 2009, 4:58 pm). Image: Yahoo News. Image may be subject to copyright.

    The pilots of a Qantas passenger jet abandoned flight to Brisbane today after a mechanical fault led to the loss of cabin pressure within minutes of take-off from Auckland, New Zealand.

    The plane had climbed to 7000 meters when the pilots noticed it was losing cabin pressure. However the landed the plane carrying 91 passengers safely. A report said.

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    Nyiragongo Unrest

    Posted by feww on July 25, 2009

    Plume from Nyiragongo

    Nyiragongo Volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo released a small plume on June 27, 2009, as the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite passed overhead.

    NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors detected hotspots on six different occasions between April 10 and May 4, 2009.  The plume observed by ALI in late June may be a continuation of the low-level activity.

    Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano—a steep-sloped structure made of alternating layers of solidified ash, hardened lava, and rocks released by previous eruptions. In contrast to the low profile of neighboring Nyamuragira, Nyiragongo rises to a height of 3,470 meters (11,384 feet) above sea level. Lava flows from Nyiragongo caused substantial casualties in 1977 and 2002.  NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 Team. Caption by Michon Scott. [Edited by FEWW.]

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