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Mar 7 / Dave Schumaker

Rethinking Giant Earthquake Theories

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake was one of the largest earthquakes recorded in the past century, not to mention one of the worst natural disasters to hit humans. Now, researchers at CalTech say this earthquake may require scientists to revise their theories of large earthquakes in subduction zones.

Indeed, the researchers say, the 2004 disaster was so much larger than any previously known rupture of this type that scientists may need to reassess many subduction zones that were previously thought to be at low risk.

For example, “the Ryukyu Islands between Taiwan and Japan are in an area where a large rupture would probably cause a tsunami that would kill a lot of people along the Chinese coast,” says Sieh. “And in the Caribbean, it could well be an error to assume that the entire subduction zone from Trinidad to Barbados and Puerto Rico is not seismic.”

The message of the 2004 earthquake to the world, says Sieh, “is that you shouldn’t assume that a subduction zone, even though it’s quiet, is incapable of generating great earthquakes.”

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