October 12, 2009

Deadly Earthquakes Have Experts Questioning Scientific Thought

Many Asia-Pacific communities have been devastated by a sudden cluster of massive earthquakes that left thousands dead and led some scientists to question conventional thought on seismic activity, AFP reported.

After huge tremors rocked Samoa and Indonesia on the same day, and another major convulsion happened in Vanuatu, some experts who dismissed notions that far-away quakes could be linked are beginning to reconsider.

A powerful tsunami smashed Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga on September 30, leaving some 184 people dead. Meanwhile, thousands are feared dead after parts of Indonesia's Padang city were reduced to rubble just hours later.

Thousands of panicked people fled the coast on Thursday as a rapid succession of large quakes off Vanuatu set off a tsunami warning for much of the South Pacific.

Veteran earthquake-watcher Gary Gibson is discarding his theory that it was all down to chance and is now searching for a possible connection.

Gibson, senior seismologist at Environmental Systems and Services consulting group, told AFP he could no longer keep using the response that it's all a big coincidence.

"But what would the (link) mechanism be? Nobody has come up with a good story."

Huilin Xing of the University of Queensland proposed a possible link between the Samoan and Indonesian earthquakes that happened 6,000 miles apart.

He believes the fast-moving Australian tectonic plate might have set off one quake, and then the other, adding there were similar correlations of the quakes in the different places.

"For two great earthquakes to occur within hours in such a way, it is abnormal," Xing said.

The 7.6, 7.8 and 7.3 Vanuatu earthquakes on Thursday also came just minutes after another large tremor shook the Philippines.

Gibson said he'd been working in the field for 30 years and never seen anything like it before.

"When you get this many large earthquakes on the Australian plate boundary it's stretching the concept of just coincidence. But nobody I know has published a link that will stand up in all cases," he added.

He said he personally thinks there may well be something else and he's continuing to look for it.

Kevin McCue, president of the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society, said the tremors in Samoa and Vanuatu had a historical precursor, but he rejected ideas of any connection between the Pacific and Indonesian quakes.

A major earthquake rocked Samoa in 1917 and was followed three years later by another of similar size off Vanuatu, with both going off close to the recent quakes' epicenters, McCue said.

However, the high activity in different areas was simply part of the random nature of earthquakes, he added.

"It's just the nature of the beast -- you have a cluster of events then you wait months without one," he said.

But McCue said it was possible there's something more, as experts don't really know what's happening down there.


Image Caption: This map shows the earthquakes near the island nation of Vanuatu that occurred on October 7 and 8, 2009. Credit: Nasa Earth Observatory


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