An earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale has recently struck near the city of Valdez in Ecuador. No damage has yet been reported from the quake, which was recorded at 15.29 EST on Sunday, March 9.
The epicenter of the earthquake was noted at 49 km Northwest of the city of Valdez, which has a population of 16,500, in the Esmeraldas province of Ecuador. The quake, classified as moderate to strong, was recorded at a depth of 19 km near the South American Coast, a region that has been hit by a series of quakes in recent months.
In August of 2013, a 6. 5 quake struck the Northwestern region of Colombia, with reports that it was felt strongly in the city of Quibido. The depth of the quake was measured at 29 km. There was no threat of tsunamis.
In February of this year, another earthquake of magnitude 4.6 struck near the province of Pichincha. The depth of that particular earthquake was recorded at almost 32 km, but its impact was felt in nearby cities such as Quito, which is 83 km from the epicenter and has a population of over 1 million inhabitants.
The western coast of North and South America is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic activity because of its inclusion into what is called the “ring of fire.” The arc runs from New Zealand, north along the east coast of Asia, north to cross the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America.
Of note is that 75 percent of the world’s volcanic activity occurs along this ring, which has been the site of some of the most devastating earthquakes. Much of the activity has been determined to be caused by tectonic plate activity, which is movement in the layers or plates that make up the earth. These plates are approximately 100 km thick, and when the plates move, there is a tremendous amount of energy created. Much of the energy is transformed into heat energy that is able to melt rocks. This molten rock, called magma, is under tremendous pressure, which forces it to the surface where it is released in the form of lava from volcanoes. The shift in the tectonic plates also produce vibrations that are expressed in the form of earthquakes. Many of these disruptions are potentially much more dangerous than the 5.6 earthquake that struck Ecuador.
With the computer power and capability now available, scientists are becoming more involved in the quest to predict earthquakes. Currently, much of the research centers on studying the frequency and patterns of previous quakes with the aim of determining the likelihood of future occurrences, and assigning some degree of probability.
Due to increases in global population and the expansion of urban development into areas more susceptible to earthquakes, it has become more important to understand what causes earthquakes. Although they may not be preventable, research may make it possible to be better prepared. At the same time, there is also focus being placed on design and construction of buildings that can resist destruction and damage from earthquakes. The earthquake measuring 5.6 that struck Ecuador may not have been foreseen, but in the future, the destruction and resulting damage may be preventable.
By Dale Davidson