January 22 would spawn a series of strong earthquakes that would rock the southwestern quadrant of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The area along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean is known for lively and active tectonic and volcanic activity that proved true today with five quakes measuring magnitude (M) 5.0 to M5.5.
The first of five earthquakes was at 2:20 a.m. Pacific Westcoast time (PST) and was situated 136 miles north-northeast of Ile Hunter, New Caledonia, or 330 miles southeast of Port-Villa, Vanuatu. The early morning quake measured M5.3 and occurred in open water between the islands of Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. Today’s first quake was at the southwestern tip of all the areas affected by today’s quakes.
This region of the Pacific Ring of Fire is home to one of the most seismically active areas in the world. The Australia and Pacific plates converge in a 1,860 mile line of geological activity right through the country of New Zealand. Just three days before a M6.3 earthquake rocked New Zealand’s lower North Island just before 4 p.m. local time.
New Zealand had a devastating M6.3 quake in February 2011 near the city of Christchurch that killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city’s downtown.
The second earthquake of the day happened at the northernmost point of the today’s rocking triangle. The M5.1 event occurred at 7:31 a.m. in the Izu Islands 366 miles southeast of Tokyo, Japan. The area around Japan is another extremely active area in the eastern region of the Ring of Fire. Large quakes often happen in the area such as the March 2011 earthquake of M9.0 that generated a massive tsunami killing more than 18,000 people. The strong quake and tsunami also caused an ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant when three nuclear reactors melted down and one building exploded.
The next in the series of five earthquakes that rocked the southwestern Pacific Ring would occur over nine hours later at 4:45 p.m. PST. The epicenter of the M5.5 quake was situated 80 miles north of Lanos, Indonesia, or 375 miles west-northwest of Dili, East Timor. The nearly 3,500 miles of convergence of the Sunda and Australia plates makes the area vulnerable to massive quakes over M9.0. The M9.1 Banda-Aceh quake in Sumatra in 2004 killed over 230,000 people in the region from the massive tsunami that was generated when the tectonic plates shifted.
The next 2 earthquakes would remain in the same general area but progress in a northeastern direction towards the middle point between the day’s first two quakes. The fourth M5.0 quake would take place nearly 2 hours later at 6:36 p.m. PST with an epicenter 262 miles east-northeast of Dili, East Timor, or 137 miles west of Saumlaki, Indonesia.
The epicenter for the fifth earthquake would be situated 68 miles southeast of Rota, Northern Mariana Islands or 70 miles east of Yigo Village, Guam. The M5.5 quake equalled the strength of the day’s third event with the M5.5 that occurred in the Flores Sea nearly five hours earlier. This area sits on the Philippine Sea plate bordering a number of other plates starting with the larger Pacific plate to the east and the Eurasia plate to the northwest. Directly to the west is the smaller Sunda plate with the Australia plate in the south. With all the plates bordering the region the Philippine Sea plate is a hotbed of seismic activity.
The earthquakes that rocked the southwestern Pacific Ring of Fire today were not the only geological activity the Ring of Fire would see. Before the day would close a M5.1 quake on the eastern side of the Ring of Fire shook 28 miles south of Puerto El Triunfo, El Salvador.
By Brent Matsalla