Haiti Earthquake May Have Released 250 Years of Seismic Stress

By Andrew Moseman | January 13, 2010 12:04 pm

Haiti_Quake_MapAs Haiti reels from yesterday’s massive earthquake and its continued aftershocks, and nations rush to put rescue efforts together, scientists analyzing the seismic event say this disaster may have been a long time coming.

The earthquake in Haiti had a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 and it appeared to have occurred along a strike-slip fault, where one side of a vertical fault slips horizontally past the other, scientists say [AP]. This fault, called the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, may have been slowly building up pressure since the major 1760 earthquake that struck Haiti.

“It’s been locked solid for about the last 250 years,” said Dr Roger Musson from the British Geological Survey (BGS). “It’s been gathering stress all that time as the plates move past each other, and it was really just a matter of time before it released all that energy” [BBC News]. Chillingly, scientists led by Paul Mann warned just two years ago that such a massive quake could strike Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. But there wasn’t much the impoverished Caribbean nation could do with that information, Mann said: “The problem with these kinds of strikes is that they can remain quiescent — dormant — for hundreds of years,” he said Tuesday evening. “So it’s hard to predict when they’ll occur” [CNN].

The BBC reports that the fault system of which Enriquillo-Plantain is a part normally moves less than an inch per year as the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates slide by each other, but this earthquake may have caused the earth’s surface along the fault line to offset by as much as three feet.

The fact that the Enriquillo-Plantain appears to have released all its fury at once raises further worry for people living near strike-slip fault zones—California’s San Andres fault also falls under this category. However, Caribbean geology expert Grenville Draper says that the Hispaniola fault system doesn’t behave exactly like California’s. The movement along the Hispaniola fault is relatively small compared with plates moving underground in California, Draper said. The effect would be less-frequent earthquakes, but relatively large ones when they do occur [Miami Herald].

Related Content:
80beats: Science Via Twitter: Post-Earthquake Tweets Can Provide Seismic Data
80beats: Major Earthquakes Can Weaken Faults Around the Globe
80beats: A Major Quake Could Release Plutonium from Los Alamos Lab
The Intersection: Ways to Support the Relief Effort in Haiti

Image: Wikimedia Commons / The Weatherman

  • katesisco

    Imagine that this is the remains of a ‘continental plate’ that is disappearing and not the way you think–is is being overridden by the adjoining plate, not subducted. I imagine that 40 years from now that error will still be in the process of being corrected. Just like the west coast of US, it is disappearing not by subduction but by being overridden–which poses the question, just how permanent are these ‘continental plates?’

    The answer is in the Grand Canyon geology. Some of these overridden plates stay exposed long enough to disappear altogether. As explained in the NYT 1/13/10 this ‘plate’ is a fragment that is going to completely disappear.

  • http://idk kierra jones

    oooo this is soooo sad:( i wish i cld helppp

  • ……


  • http://BackbenchMedia.com Jim

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    This earthquake was large, at 7.0; near a population center and shallow at 6 miles underneath the surface.

  • http://www.TiarasKidsBoutique.com Angie

    That is sooooo sad :( i wish i could help!!!!!

  • http://corvettesouth.com.w3wiki.net Jong Grossklaus

    There is a secret system for making money. Time is short and the opportunity is limited. I am talking about a software that allows you to make tons of money online without even needing a website or doing any of the usual marketing tasks. Imagine making money 24 hours a day without even needing a website. Imagine never having to write articles, pay for clicks, build and maintain websites, and all that. Obviously, since the software is so simple, it will work for the seasoned veteran as well as the newbie. What this software actually does is something that you have never seen before. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. This software is powerful enough that it can generate 4 figure incomes. Go ahead and take a look at the video presentation and see what you think -> http://adf.ly/1Ty1K

  • http://www.louisvuitton78.com/ louisvuitton78

    I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays..

  • http://zbiornikszamba.wordpress.com/ Meghan Feamster

    I like what you guys are up also. Such clever work and reporting! Carry on the excellent works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it’ll improve the value of my web site :)


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar