Chilean Earthquake Caused by Offshore Subduction Zone


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Chile’s Tectonic History

Earthquakes of M7.0 or greater since 1990 in the Valparaiso region (image from USGS)

With a major subduction zone lying off the length of its coast, Chile is no stranger to major earthquakes: a glance at the USGS listing of major earthquakes indicates that, during recorded history, the country has experienced no fewer than nine tremors of ≥M8.0, the most recent of these being an M8.8 tremor which occurred in 2010. The country has the dubious distinction of having been the location of three of the ten largest earthquakes on record.

The country’s, and the world’s, largest recorded earthquake was an M9.5 event which occurred in 1960. Remarkably, although it caused a large amount of damage, and generated a Pacific-wide tsunami which caused casualties in Hawaii and the Philippines, the earthquake killed relatively few people (<2000) compared to the major 21st century earthquakes of 2004 (Sumatra) and 2011 (Japan).


Lewis, S. Offshore Earthquakes and Landslides: The Chile Margin Triple Junction. US Geological Survey. Accessed April 17, 2012.

USGS. Historic Earthquakes List. Accessed April 17, 2012.

USGS. Magnitude 6.7 – Offshore Valparaiso, Chile. Accessed April 17, 2012.

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