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Why are earthquakes common in the Philippines?


Magnitude 7.6 earthquake strikes off the coast of the Philippines
Magnitude 7.6 earthquake strikes off the coast of the Philippines

Staff writers

September 1, 2012 — A magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck off the coast of the Philippines Friday, prompting tsunami warnings and causing power outages across the region.

The Philippines is located in an area known for its frequent seismic activity
The Philippines is located in an area known for its frequent seismic activity

At 8:47 pm, local time, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck near the Philippines. 

The large quake - the third to strike the region this year - prompted tsunami alerts across the Philippines, but the warnings were dropped shortly after.

At least one person died and thousands were evacuated.

Widespread power outages and damaged buildings prompted panic in the streets.

Substantial earthquakes are relatively common in the Philippines -- and experts say it's all due to location.

The country is situated on what geologists call the Pacific "ring of fire", an area known for its frequent seismic activity.

"The Philippines is probably one of the five hottest earthquake areas on earth," says Dr. John Clague of British Columbia's Simon Fraser University.

Small earthquakes happen frequently on Canada's west coast
Small earthquakes happen frequently on Canada's west coast

"There isn't just one subduction zone there -- there are a series of them, due to the way [the earth's] plates are configured and how they interact. Also, the plates are moving against one another at a very high rate."

According to Dr. Clague, the earth's plates are moving much faster in the Philippines than they are in Canada.

But that doesn't mean Canada is a tremor-free zone.

"Small earthquakes are frequent, but large ones are rare [in Canada]," Dr. Clague says. "We experience earthquakes that we can't feel regularly on the west coast. A magnitude-3 is the kind of quake that you can begin to feel if you're close to the epicentre -- but these serve as a reminder that we do have an issue here with earthquakes."

According to Brian Dillon, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, Canada's earthquake hot spots are British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, due to the location of fault lines and plate tectonics.

"But it's important to remember that large earthquakes are few and far between in Canada," he says.

"British Columbia tends to see the most large earthquakes, but the last one, a magnitude 7.4, was in 1970."

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