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Friday, March 11, 2011

Whole lot of shaking going on

Whole lot of shaking going on
By News Makers |
 
March 11th, 2011, 10:37 am

With ongoing aftershocks in Christchurch and reports of large quakes in Japan, Papua New Guinea and China in the past week, you could be forgiven for thinking the world is shaking itself apart.

But don't worry - it's as stable as it ever was.

China is the most recent country to be struck by a devastating quake, with dozens killed and hundreds injured in a 5.4-magnitude earthquake that struck a remote area of southwest China near the border with Myanmar.

Papua New guinea and Japan have also been hit by sizable shakes in the past week, although fortunately there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

When combined with the aftershocks in Christchurch that just keep on coming, it's easy to see why many people are taking these quakes as signs of the end of the world.

But that apocalypse might still be a long time coming when the facts regarding earthquakes are taken into account.

There are about half a million earthquakes around the world every year, of which 100,000 are actually felt. While there were more quakes with a magnitude greater than 7.0 in 2010 than any year since 1970, the total number of large quakes was at its lowest point since 2004.

There have certainly been more recorded quakes in the past 20 years, but this is more to do with the amount of attention being paid to them. The number of monitoring stations around the planet has grown from around 350 in 1931 to more than 4000 in the present day, and technological advances have made the location and detection of many smaller quakes a lot easier.

There has also been an increase in population density in most quake-prone areas, while greater global communications mean quakes like this week's Chinese shake are given far greater attention in the global media.

What has changed the most here in New Zealand is the awareness of quakes. The whole country has seen the horrific result a major quake has had on the people and buildings of Christchurch.

The most recent quake, as well as the first shock in September, have shattered the idea that any part of New Zealand is relatively safe from quakes, and after seeing the damage close-up, it's only natural that Kiwis are taking more notice of quakes overseas than they may have at the same time last year.

The entire country is part of a tectonic area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Japan and the entire west coast of both North and South America.

About 90% of the world's earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire, and New Zealand can expect further unexpected shocks in the future. They may be tragic and terrible events that cause unimaginable loss, but it's not the end of the world.

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