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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Huge earthquake rocks South Pacific, tsunami warning triggered

Pacific including the Solomon Islands

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PORT MORSEBY, Papua New Guinea - The South Pacific has been rocked by a huge 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Sunday which has triggered a tsunami warning.

The quake occurred in the Solomon Islands, 41 kilometres west north-west of Papua New Guinea at 0430 UTC, coordinates 6.1 south, 155.2 east at a depth of 168 kilometres (104 miles).

A tsunami warning was still current for the Solomons and Papua New Guinea early evening local time Sunday.

Hazardous tsunami waves were forecast initially for a number of islands in the Pacific including the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Nauriu, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, Indonesia and Vanuatu, however the warning was later downgraded to only apply to some coasts off the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

According to the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S), the earthquake occurred as the result of reverse faulting at an intermediate depth beneath the island of Bougainville (North Solomons).

"At the location of the earthquake, the Australia plate is converging with and subducting beneath the Pacific plate in an east-northeast direction at a rate of approximately 103 mm/yr. At the location of the earthquake, some researchers consider the edges of the Australia and Pacific plates to be divided into several microplates that take up the overall convergence between Australia and the Pacific, including the Solomon Sea and South Bismarck microplates local to this event. In this context, the January 22nd event occurred along the boundary between the Solomon Sea microplate and the Pacific plate.

The Solomon Sea microplate moves slightly faster and more northeasterly with respect to the Pacific plate (and South Bismarck microplate) than does the Australia plate due to sea-floor spreading in the Woodlark Basin to the southeast of the January 22nd earthquake, facilitating the classic subduction evident beneath New Britain and New Ireland. Focal mechanism solutions for this event indicate the earthquake occurred on a moderately dipping fault striking either northwest or southeast. The location, depth and focal mechanism solution indicate the earthquake occurred as a result of intraplate faulting within the subducting lithosphere of the Australia plate (Solomon Sea microplate), rather than on the overlying plate interface," a U.S.G.S. report issued Sunday said.

"While commonly plotted as points on maps, earthquakes of this size are more appropriately described as slip over a larger fault area. Reverse-faulting events of the size of the January 22, 2017, M 7.9 earthquake are typically about 135x60 km (length x width)."

"Earthquakes like this event, with focal depths between 70 and 300 km, are commonly termed "intermediate-depth" earthquakes. Intermediate-depth earthquakes represent deformation within subducted slabs rather than at the shallow plate interface between subducting and overriding tectonic plates.

They typically cause less damage on the ground surface above their foci than is the case with similar-magnitude shallow-focus earthquakes, but large intermediate-depth earthquakes may be felt at great distance from their epicenters. "Deep-focus" earthquakes, those with focal depths greater than 300 km, also occur in the subducted Australia plate. Earthquakes have been reliably located to depths of about 500 km in this region," the U.S.G.S. report said. 

The Papua New Guinea region frequently hosts large earthquakes. Over the last century, 28 other earthquakes with a magnitude higher than 7.0 occurred within 250 klometres of Sunday's earthquake.

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