February 2019: 18 Earthquakes Reported

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Over the course of February 2019, 18 earthquakes were reported by the Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research (FUNVISIS) & the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI SRC). It is important to distinguish between reported earthquakes versus recorded earthquakes, as this number is likely much higher. FUNVISIS publicly reports on recorded quakes larger than M2.5. UWI SRC publicly reports on recorded quakes larger than M3.8, or smaller if a large population feels the quake.

Trinidad and Tobago, and the surrounding region is a very seismically active area. Across the Eastern Caribbean, over 2,200 earthquakes are recorded annually. Since 1990, the U.W.I. SRC records an annual average of 280 earthquakes in the Trinidad and Tobago region (area bounded by 9.5°- 11.5°N & 59.5°W – 63.5°W). Of these 280 quakes, 50 of these seismic events are on average, above magnitude 3.5. This means, on average, we expect to see approximately 23-24 earthquakes per month, with 4-5 earthquakes larger than M3.5

Of these 18 earthquakes in January 2019, 6 were larger than magnitude 3.8. and 13 were larger than magnitude 3.5.

The First Felt (and Largest) Earthquake of February 2019

Magnitude M4.3-M4.8 striking at 6:52PM Sunday 10th February 2019, reported felt across Southern and Western Trinidad.

At 6:52PM Sunday 10th February 2019, a preliminary Magnitude 4.8 earthquake occurred at a preliminary location of 98 km WSW of San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago. This event occurred at a shallow depth of 10.0 KM. It was reported felt across parts of Southern & Western Trinidad, with a very brief jolt.

A reviewed solution of this event has not been posted by the Seismic Research Centre at the time of posting.

However, reviewed solutions from the USGS and FUNVISIS both have slightly different solutions, of magnitudes M4.7 and M4.3 respectively. Both seismic organizations do have this earthquake located further east, in the south-central area of the Gulf of Paria. This is a more characteristic location for quakes, given that the SRC’s preliminary location is further west, near on-land Eastern Venezuela.

Regardless of the future change in magnitude, whether it remains at M4.8 (Prelim UWI SRC) or is revised closer to FUNVISIS’ M4.3, this quake was the largest in the Trinidad and Tobago region for the month.

Other Reported Quakes Larger Than M3.8 in February 2019

FAQ on February 2019 Earthquakes

If the general population didn’t feel the earthquake, why publish the information?

This is a common question or criticism from scientists, disaster preparedness officials and the general population alike. The intentions are not nefarious, but purely to educate. Time and time again, Trinbagoians take for granted lull periods between seismic events. Only when a strong to major quake strikes, then the general population remembers that they live in a seismically active area. In fact, the Paria Peninsula, northwest of Trinidad, is one of the most active seismogenic zones in the Eastern Caribbean. Earthquakes occur on a daily basis across T&T. The “Big One” can strike at any moment, without any prediction and has the potential to cause cataclysmic damage across the islands. However, with preparedness and awareness, we can become a earthquake-ready and earthquake-safe population.

Related: Earthquake Safety

Why does magnitude, depth and location vary between the USGS, UWI SRC & FUNVISIS?

Globally, earthquake monitoring agencies use different methods for processing earthquakes so often there are differences in the results. This is generally expected and accepted by the scientific community but can present some confusion for the general population.

The UWI Seismic Research Centre is the authoritative agency for seismic hazards in the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean and operates the widest and densest network of seismic stations in the region which, by extension, is likely to consistently yield the most accurate results for the islands under its area of responsibility, which includes Trinidad & Tobago.

The SRC is not currently being funded to operate a 24-hour facility, however the Centre has a courtesy, 24-hour response system since there are duty scientists who have agreed to be on call outside of working hours who may attend to events as they occur. In an effort to meet the public’s insatiable demand for more information within the shortest possible time frame, they have implemented an automated system which provides earthquake solutions often within minutes of the event and posts these to their social media accounts, usually well before other regional and international agencies. Results are reviewed by an analyst shortly thereafter and posted to their website.

There is usually a 10 km margin of error in latitude and longitude, but often tens of km in depth, between preliminary results and reviewed results (which is standard for monitoring agencies), magnitude tends to change as more data come to hand, even with manual processing.

Does an increase in the number small earthquakes decrease the chance of the “Big One” occurring?

Seismologists have observed that for every magnitude 6 earthquake there are about 10 of magnitude 5, 100 of magnitude 4, 1,000 of magnitude 3, and so forth as the events get smaller and smaller. This sounds like a lot of small earthquakes, but there are never enough small ones to eliminate the occasional large event.

It would take 32 magnitude 5’s, 1000 magnitude 4’s, OR 32,000 magnitude 3’s to equal the energy of one magnitude 6 event. So, even though we always record many more small events than large ones, there are far too few to eliminate the need for the occasional large earthquake. (Source: USGS)

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