No doomsday seen in recent earthquakes, just 'bad luck'

Natures way

 “There’s nothing going on out of the ordinary,” Dr Daniel McNamara, a research seismologist with the US Geological Survey, said.

He said earthquakes, caused by shiftings and grindings of colliding tectonic plates beneath the planet’s surface, were a natural phenomenon happening “all the time”, with small tremors occurring in the tens of thousands each year.

Friday’s 8.9 magnitude quake in Japan was the biggest on record in that earthquake-prone country. The USGS said a magnitude 9 earthquake was equivalent to 25,000 nuclear bombs.

The Japan quake capped 14 months that saw a January 2010 7.0 magnitude jolt that devastated Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed more than 300,000 people, followed by an 8.8 magnitude quake the next month in Chile that killed more than 500 people and caused $30 billion in damage.

This year on February 22 a quake measuring 6.3 magnitude ravaged Christchurch, New Zealand, following an earlier nearby 7.1 quake in that country in September.
“We have just had bad luck, they have occurred in places near to centres of population and then it becomes news. If they occur in the middle of nowhere, they are not news,” said Grenville Draper, professor of geosciences at the Earth and Environment Department of Florida International University.

He and McNamara said it was human nature to try to assign patterns to unfolding events, including catastrophes like earthquakes that lay bare human vulnerability in the face of powerful natural forces. “We are the pattern recognition ape ... we are constantly looking for patterns and it tends to rather mislead us,” said Draper. “We overinterpret at times.”

McNamara said rapid advances in technology to measure and report tremors and earthquakes, plus intensified media coverage, may have contributed to “a false notion” that the world was seeing an increase in powerful deadly quakes.

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