Skip to main content

Chile quake: This was big but a bigger one awaits, scientist says

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Geologists say an even larger quake in the region is lurking
  • Scientist: "We do not know when it's going to occur"
  • Chile has seen no shortage of seismic activity in recent years

(CNN) -- This one was big but it's not the Big One.

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile Tuesday night, triggering small landslides, setting off a tsunami and killing at least five people.

But geologists say an even larger quake in the region is lurking.

Heavy machinery is used to clear debris on the road leading to the town of Camarones, Chile, on Thursday, April 3. Access to the town was cut off when an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck northern Chile on April 1. Heavy machinery is used to clear debris on the road leading to the town of Camarones, Chile, on Thursday, April 3. Access to the town was cut off when an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck northern Chile on April 1.
Earthquake off Chilean coast
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Earthquake off Chilean coast Photos: Earthquake off Chilean coast

"This magnitude 8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting in this area," said Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "We're expecting a potentially even larger earthquake."

Chile quake sparks mass evactuations
Pres.: Chile faced emergency 'very well'

It could be tomorrow. Or it could be 50 years.

Expert: Tsunami waves move like a jet

"We do not know when it's going to occur," he said.

Here's why:

Chile sits on an arc of volcanos and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the "Ring of Fire." This area sees frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The country itself has seen no shortage of seismic activity in recent years.

Since 1973, Chile has had more than a dozen quakes of magnitude-7.0 and above.

Powerful earthquake strikes off Chile, triggers tsunami

In 2010, about 500 people died when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit. That quake was so violent, it moved one whole city about 10 feet west.

Simons says Tuesday's quake is of interest because the fault line along Chile's coast has constantly shifted during the last 140 years.

In recent weeks, this area has seen a cluster of activity-- something like 50 to 100 smaller quakes.

Then, late last month, a 6.7 and a 6.1 magnitude quake struck.

When quakes happen, the surface ruptures. The two sides of the fault slip past each other.

But the area to the north and south of Tuesday's quake "did not rupture in this event," Simons said. And it's "still an area that hasn't ruptured in 140-odd years."

Given that it's an area of frequent quakes, and frequent ruptures, it may only be a matter of time.

"We expect another 8.8-8.9 earthquake here sometime in the future," Simons said.

The good news? "It may not occur for many, many years."

What you need to know about earthquakes

Measuring the magnitude of earthquakes

The place where two earthquakes hit every hour

Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
With so many new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
updated 5:45 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
The lives of everyone close to Oscar Pistorius and the girl he killed are changed forever, his siblings say.
updated 5:30 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Gene Simmons reflects on 40 years of KISS, and how even rock royalty needs sound business principles.
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
updated 5:15 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT