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No B.C. earthquake in the forecast

Recent earthquakes around the world a ‘coincidence’



On March 9, the Washington Post ran a question and answer article titled "Seismic Science: Is number of earthquakes on the rise?" which stated that the number of earthquakes reported is still within averages, but that various considerations like population movement and media coverage made them appear worse.

Later that day an earthquake measuring about 6.9 on the Richter scale hit Chile, just weeks after the country was rocked by an 8.8 quake and tsunami that left hundreds dead and thousands homeless.

Both came on the heels of large quakes off the coast of Japan and a massive quake in Haiti in early January that killed an estimated 230,000 people and left millions homeless.

Earthquakes are very much in the news and on everyone's mind these days, and for residents of B.C. - who have been warned their whole lives that "the big one" is just around the corner - the question is whether these big quakes off the coast of Chile and Haiti are a sign of bigger things to come.

Alison Bird, an earthquake seismologist for Natural Resources Canada, reassures that the recent quakes are not related to one another and can't trigger a quake off the coast of B.C. - that's not to say that it can't happen at any time, just that one quake doesn't cause another.

"We're not seeing any elevated activity within Canada," she said. "They're not related, the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and we haven't seen any related activity up here. When events happen like that in a short period of time it's really just the luck of the draw, it's a coincidence that they happened so close together.

"It's hard to convince people of that, but it's not like a domino effect."

As for the theory that earthquakes are affecting more people than before, Bird says that is very much the case with western North America.

"People tend to want to live in attractive areas, and they're usually attractive because of tectonics," she said. "The tectonics of our region caused our mountains and our beautiful landscapes. Also, people tend to live on coasts no matter where you are, and that's where most of the plate boundaries are."

That said, B.C. will always be a hot spot for earthquakes, with an average of over 1,500 quakes a year.

There is a potential, says Bird, of a large quake of 9.0 where the Cascadian Subduction Zone meets the North American Plate, about 150 km off the west coast of Vancouver Island. An event of that magnitude would leave the Lower Mainland ground shaking for three to five minutes, she said, and could trigger a tsunami tidal wave that could endanger coastlines. However, given that the Vancouver area is guarded by Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, there would be almost no effect there.

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