8:09 PM – Moderate Earthquake Shakes Trinidad, NE Venezuela

At 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020, a moderate earthquake struck at a preliminary Magnitude 5.2 (Md or Mt) earthquake occurred 109 kilometers west-southwest of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

UWI SRC’s preliminary solution for the 5.2 Earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.

This event occurred at a preliminary shallow depth of 10 Kilometers. This information (above) is preliminary from the U.W.I. Seismic Research Centre, the authority for seismic and volcanological information in the Eastern Caribbean. Quake parameters such as location, depth, and magnitude may change upon review from a seismologist at the SRC.

This event was widely reported felt across Western and Southern Trinidad as well as coastal Northeastern Venezuela. Generally, weak to light shaking was reported across the aforementioned countries with an audible rumble.

You can submit felt reports to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, United States Geological Survey or the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

There is no tsunami threat.

There are four conditions necessary for an earthquake to cause a tsunami:

  1. The earthquake must occur beneath the ocean or cause material to slide in the ocean.
  2. The earthquake must be strong, at least magnitude 6.5.
  3. The earthquake must rupture the Earth’s surface and it must occur at shallow depth – less than 70 KM below the surface of the Earth.
  4. The earthquake must cause vertical movement of the seafloor (up to several meters).

These conditions were not met.

Note that across the globe, different seismic monitoring agencies use different methods, or several methods, for processing quake parameters. Each method has its limitations and will likely produce different results within the ranges of the uncertainty of that data. This is generally accepted within the scientific community.

USGS' reviewed solution for tonight's earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.
USGS’ reviewed solution for tonight’s earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) also recorded this quake, at a reviewed Magnitude 5.0 (mww) further west of the UWI SRC’s preliminary solution. According to the USGS, this quake occurred at a slightly deeper depth of 91.2 kilometers.

EMSC's preliminary solution for tonight's earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.
EMSC’s preliminary solution for tonight’s earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.

The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) also recorded this quake, at a preliminary Magnitude 5.1 (mb) in the far northwestern area of the Gulf of Paria. According to the EMSC, this quake occurred at a depth of 50.0 kilometers.

FUNVISIS' preliminary solution for tonight's earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.
FUNVISIS’ preliminary solution for tonight’s earthquake at 8:09 PM Sunday 15th March 2020.

The Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research (FUNVISIS) also recorded this quake, at a preliminary Magnitude 4.7 (Mw). According to the FUNVISIS, this quake occurred at a depth of 5.0 kilometers in the far western Gulf of Paria. Quakes are normal and frequent in this area.

Based on the location and depth of this earthquake, it is tectonic in origin and occurred at the intersection of seismic zone 1 and seismic zone 3, the Paria Peninsula and the Gulf of Paria.

Earthquakes in Zone 1 occur in the most seismically active area near Trinidad. Within zone one, the South American plate is beginning to rapidly descend into the Earth’s mantle as the detached oceanic lithosphere exists at depths between 50 to 300 kilometers. (Russo et al. 1993). This is where this quake occurred. This zone is one of the most active seismogenic sources in the Eastern Caribbean and has the potential to generate earthquakes up to Magnitude 8.0.

At shallower levels, where this earthquake occurred, the North Coast Fault Zone, as well as the El Pilar Fault, part of the Boconó-San Sebastian-El Pilar Fault system, run across Zone 1. These fault systems compensate for the stress built up as the Caribbean plate slides past the South American plate. Hence, most of these earthquakes from these fault systems are shallow to moderate between 0 to 70 kilometers.

Now within the Gulf of Paria, it is very faulted, seismically complex area surrounding Trinidad. At this zone, the extension of the Los Bajos fault from southwestern Trinidad, and the Warm Springs Fault from Central Trinidad meets the El Pilar fault. This complex network of faults also includes small, conjugate or perpendicular faults.

High levels of seismic activity occur in this zone, with both shallow and moderate depth earthquakes, generally remaining less than 50 kilometers depth. The UWI SRC has stated during a Q&A of the earthquake swarm between January and February 2018, this location is capable of generating a magnitude 6.5 or greater earthquake.

Within 20 kilometers of the epicenter of the main earthquake, since 1960, there have been over 800 recorded events, at all depths. The largest quake that occurred in this area were two magnitude 5.2 (Md) earthquakes on September 21st, 1997 and October 20th, 1984.

Earthquakes *cannot* be predicted – meaning the precise time, date, magnitude, depth, etc. cannot be known ahead of time based on current research and technology.

Generally, across the Eastern Caribbean, a seismically active area, earthquakes of this magnitude, up to M8.0 and greater, are possible and this statement has been repeated by seismologists at the U.W.I. Seismic Research Centre for decades.

Each year, over 2,200 seismic events are recorded in the Eastern Caribbean. On average, the Eastern Caribbean has seen a pattern of major (M7.0-M7.9) quakes every 20 to 30 years. That pattern has stayed true. The last major (M7.0-7.9) quake occurred north of Martinique in 2007. 

Historical patterns indicate great quakes (M8.0+) on the Richter Scale have occurred every century or so in the region. The probability of another event at that level is high since the last >M8.0 earthquake occurred in 1843.

Now is the time to create or go over your earthquake preparedness plan and know what to do during, before and after an earthquake. See here for more details.

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