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 11:17 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
The beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley by ISIS militants brings into focus the risks faced by reporters in conflict zones.
updated 12:33 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
About $35,000 was taken from the bank accounts of four passengers on board Flight 370.
updated 9:57 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Five survivors of acid attacks capture India's attention with a "ground breaking" photo shoot.
updated 1:32 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
The execution of a journalist by a British-accented jihadist is a direct challenge to the international community. It's time for the U.S. to move, writes Frida Ghitis.
updated 8:19 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
In an exclusive CNN interview, Lance Armstrong admits to having a "f**k you" attitude.
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Summer isn't over yet. These new hotels are keeping it alive and fresh.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
You've seen her turn on the catwalk, but her income might make your head spin.
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
The pain that Michael Brown's parents are going through is something Sybrina Fulton can relate to. She, too, lost a son in a controversial shooting.
updated 5:04 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
19-year-old Udi Segal explains why he won't join the country's military.
Drinkers guzzled an incredible 10.3 billion liters of this brand in 2013, making it the world's No.1 beer. And you may have never heard of it.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT