Have earthquakes been more frequent recently?

12 June 2011

Question

I have a question about earthquakes. It seems like there have been an awful lot of big earthquakes lately. Is there some reason that they seem to be a lot recently? Like once one of the plates moves it somehow affects a lot of the other plates too. Or is it just a coincidence? I live very near the Hayward fault in the San Francisco bay area, so should I really start earthquake proofing my house and lab now?

Answer

We posed this question to Gopal Madabhushi from the University of Cambridge...

Gopal - Hello. This is (Gopal Marbushi). I'm a reader in geotechnical engineering at the University of Cambridge. It is true that large earthquakes have happened in close succession recently. For example, two larger plates in Christchurch in New Zealand and a very large earthquake in Japan. However, the fault systems in Japan and New Zealand are quite separate and there are no interconnections between them so, the earthquakes occurring together is a pure coincidence. Having said that, the two earthquakes near Christchurch may be interconnected, with stress release from one fault affecting the other. If you live in a seismic area, it is always better to consider earthquake proofing your house. Diana - Earthquakes haven't occurred anymore in the last 20 years than they have done over the last century, but we have far more seismograph stations and much better methods of reporting communication and accessible news. So, we're being deluged with more stories about earthquakes which we know a lot more about. Plus, there are many more people in the world now who can be affected by such earthquakes.

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