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Mar 11 / Dave Schumaker

“Mega-Earthquakes” Can Occur Anywhere

Based on orders of magnitude, about how many 9.0 earthquakes do you think we should expect in a given century? We’d expect it to be in the single digits (thankfully, it is). However, new research out of New Zealand shows that the number is actually lower than we originally expected. About three per century says Dr. Robert McCaffrey of New Zealand’s GNS Science.

However, there is a caveat to this revised number. The original hypothesis stated that the risks posed by these mega-earthquakes was controlled by how fast subduction was occurring. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake changed all that.

“The Sumatra-Andaman earthquake happened in one of the least likely places,” says seismologist Dr Robert McCaffrey of New Zealand’s government research agency GNS Science.

The hypothesis failed. “It was quite humbling,” he says.

McCaffrey decided to re-examine the risks of the largest earthquakes without biasing his simulation with the known recent history of giant earthquakes or with the failed theory that was supposed to predict the danger of any given subduction zone.

When he ran his simulation, it popped out the three-per-century figure, as well as the new possibility that any subduction zone posed a danger for these mega-uakes, albeit not a very frequent danger.

Dr. McCaffrey goes on to explain why we’ve seen *five* M9.0’s in the past 50 years. It’s an interesting hypothesis. And one that raises the potential risk from tsunamis emanating from subduction zone earthquakes.

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