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Commentary: Indonesia quake – a devastating instance of how shallow earthquakes might be harmful

Giant earthquakes of better than 50km depth can and do trigger widespread harm, however the depth of shaking is decreased as a result of the seismic waves journey at the least 50km earlier than they attain folks.

Such earthquakes not often trigger huge fatalities – the magnitude 6.5 Tasikmalaya, Java earthquake in 2017 occurred at 90km depth and killed solely 4 folks and broken 4,826 houses.

The latest Cianjur earthquake was a lot smaller – at magnitude 5.6, its vitality was eight occasions smaller than the Tasikmalaya earthquake – nevertheless it did a lot better harm.

The Cianjur earthquake had a better affect as a result of it ruptured inside a couple of kilometres of town of Cianjur, the place the shaking was categorized as “extreme” (Modified Mercalli Depth 8).

An identical comparability might be made with big subduction zone earthquakes that happen offshore. Whereas these might be far better in measurement than the Cianjur earthquake, they’re usually 100km or extra distant from inhabitants centres, so that they kill fewer folks via constructing collapse.


There’s another excuse inland shallow earthquakes might be so devastating, significantly in Java: They happen sometimes, so most individuals are oblivious to the hazard.

The inhabitants of Java elevated by an element of 4 via the 20th century, and through this time there was just one shallow earthquake in 1924 that brought about almost 800 deaths, and one other 4 that brought about between 10 and 100 deaths.

It wasn’t till 2006 {that a} actually main occasion occurred: The 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake, magnitude 6.3, which killed 5,749 folks. Elsewhere in Java there is no such thing as a lived expertise of a serious earthquake, typically stretching again a number of generations.

As a consequence, little consideration is paid to the earthquake resilience of residential development. So when an earthquake does happen, most of the weak buildings will collapse.


Java’s earthquake historical past in the course of the colonial period paints a starkly completely different image. Our latest research reveals many damaging earthquakes have occurred in Java for the reason that 17th century.

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