Several large earthquakes with magnitude higher than 8 on the Richter scale have already occurred along the margins between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, under the ocean off Ecuador and Colombia. This region is vulnerable, all the more so because since the 1980s, Ecuador’s oil export terminal is sited within it. More information is needed on this zone of extremely high seismic risk. For this reason, two scientific campaigns, “Amadeus” and “Esmeraldas” were launched on 3 February and will run until 6 April 2005.
These campaigns, conducted by the mixed research unit (UMR) Geosciences-Azur (involving the IRD, CNRS, Universities Pierre et Marie Curie and Nice Sophia-Antipolis) working jointly with the University of Bordeaux, the Marine Technology Unit of the CSIC (Higher Council for Scientific Research) at Barcelona, and its international partners: Canadian (University of Victoria, PGC), Colombian (DIMAR, EAFIT and Caldas Universities, and INGEOMINAS) and Ecuadorian (INOCAR, EPN, Petroproduction) have the objective of studying the natural hazards associated with the large subduction earthquakes, submarine avalanches and tsunamis they trigger. The ocean-going campaigns are being conducted on the IFREMER research ship Atalante.
In 1906, a strong earthquake of 8.8 magnitude shook this part of the world. It was induced by the slipping of the Nazca plate under the North Andean margin. The two plates converge at an average rate of 5.5 cm/year. The slipping is expressed as a fracture zone about 500 km long. Reactivation occurred by earthquakes in 1942, 1958 and 1979, of magnitude 7.7 to 8.2, which provoked large tsunamis and submarine sediment slides.
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