Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Uplifted island


The island Isla Santa María in the south of central Chile is the document of a complete seismic cycle.

Charles Darwin and his captain Robert Fitzroy witnessed the great earthquake of 1835 in south central Chile. Historical nautical charts from the „Beagle“-captain show an uplift of the island Isla Santa María of 2 to 3 meters after the earthquake.

Uplift in the Santa María island as a result of the Maule earthquake in 2010. The island experienced a sudden uplift about 2 meters during the earthquake. (Photo: M. Moreno, GFZ)

What Darwin and Fitzroy couldn’t know was the fact that 175 years later nearly at the same position such a strong earthquake would recur.

At the South American west coastline the Pacific Ocean floor moves under the South American continent. Resulting that through an in- and decrease of tension the earth’s crust along the whole continent from Tierra del Fuego to Peru broke alongside the entire distance in series of earthquakes within one and a half century. The earthquake of 1835 was the beginning of such a seismic cycle in this area.

After examining the results of the Maule earthquake in 2010 a team of geologists from Germany, Chile and the US for the first time were able to measure and simulate a complete seismic cycle at its vertical movement of the earth’s crust at this place.

In the current online-edition of „Nature Geoscience“ they report about the earthquakes: After the earthquake of 1835 with a magnitude of about 8,5 Isla Santa María was uplifted up to 3 m, subsided again about 1,5 m in the following 175 years, and upliftet anew 1,5-2 m caused by the Maule earthquake with a moment magnitude scale of 8,8.

The Maule earthquake belongs to the great earthquakes, which was fully recorded and therefore well documented by a modern network of space-geodetical and geophysical measuring systems on the ground. More difficult was the reconstruction of the processes in 1835.

But nautical charts from 1804 before the earthquake, from 1835 and 1886 as well as the precise documentation of captain Fitzroy allow in combination with present-day methods a sufficient accurate determination of the vertical movement of the earth’s crust along a complete seismic cycle.

At the beginning of such a cycle energy is stored by elastic deformation of the earth’s crust, then released at the time of the earthquake. “But interestingly, our observations hint at a variable subsidence rate during the seismic cycle” explains Marcos Moreno from GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, one of the co-authors.

“Between great earthquakes the plates beneath Isla Santa María are large locked, dragging the edge of the South American plate, and the island upon it, downward and eastward.” During the earthquakes, motion is suddenly reversed and the edge of the South America Plate and island are thrust upward and to the west.” This complex movement pattern could be perfectly confirmed by a numerical model. In total, over time arises a permanent vertical uplift of 10 to 20% of the complete uplift.

Records of earthquakes show that there are no periodically sequence repetition times or consistent repeating magnitudes of earthquakes. An important instrument for a better estimation of risks caused by earthquakes are the compilation and measurement of earth’s crust deformation through an entire seismic cycle.

Wesson, R. L., Melnick, D., Cisternas, M., Moreno, M. & Ely, L.: “Vertical deformation through a complete seismic cycle at Isla Santa María, Chile”, Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, 22.06.2015,  (2015). DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2468

For photos in printable resolution click here:

Franz Ossing
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum
- Head, Public Relations -
14473 Potsdam / Germany
Tel. +49 (0)331-288 1040
Fax +49 (0)331-288 1044

Franz Ossing | Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

nachricht Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it
25.10.2016 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>