An earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale shook Melbourne residents Sunday night.
It was the largest earthquake that had its epicenter within 40 kilometers from Melbourne’s central business district for more than 120 years, according to Adam Pascal, chief scientist at the Center for Seismology Research. The most recent was a 4.5-magnitude earthquake that occurred in 1902.
The most powerful earthquake in the Victorian era since detailed records began, it occurred in 2021. That earthquake, with a magnitude of 5.9, was centered at Woods Point, about 130 kilometers from Melbourne, but it destroyed the building in the capital. It was caused by the rupture of a previously unknown fault line, which was discovered this year by Dr Sima Mousavi, a seismologist at the Australian National University, and her collaborators.
How common are earthquakes in Victoria compared to other states?
“We expect earthquakes in Victoria, but not more than in other countries,” Mousavi said. “We get minor earthquakes all over Australia.”
The whole of Australia lies on the Australian tectonic plate, which is classified as a stable continental plate. However, it is under pressure from neighboring plates, such as the Eurasian plate to the north and the Pacific plate to the east, which has led to fault lines forming within the Australian plate.
“Think of Australia like a Pavlova,” Mousavi said. “You push that pavlova from the sides—you can get cracks anywhere on the top of the pavlova.”
These internal fault lines are widespread across Australia, particularly in the south-east, said Dr Behzad Fathi, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Technology Sydney.
Geoscience Australia maintains a national map of known fault trees.
“Wherever you see mountains, it’s a very good indication that you have a history of seismic activity,” Pascal said. He said there are about 30 to 40 earthquakes each week in the southeastern states of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. “Maybe once every two weeks, he’ll feel one of those.”
Could a very large earthquake occur in Australia?
Fathi said the magnitude of the quake depends on the size of the fault. The longer the fault line, the greater the potential amount of friction and energy release. “When you increase the magnitude of an earthquake, let’s say five to six, or six to seven, the amount of energy it releases increases 30 times.”
According to Fathi, Australia experiences an average of two earthquakes each year with a magnitude greater than five. “We can expect, in Australia, earthquakes of magnitude seven to 7.5, but not very regularly,” he said.
Pascal agrees that Australia has internal fault lines long enough to host a magnitude 7.5 earthquake. Some are located near major cities, but there is a potential for a major earthquake “pretty much anywhere in Australia”.
Perhaps the closest to Melbourne that most people know is the Selwyn Fault which runs along the Mornington Peninsula. This one is likely large enough to host a [magnitude] Pascal said. “last [large] The fault begins near Apollo Bay and extends through Geelong.
What is the largest earthquake in Australia?
The Tasman Sea earthquake was a large magnitude 8.1 earthquake that in 2004 caused a small tsunami when it struck a remote area in the southern Tasman Sea.
The most powerful Australian earthquake on Earth occurred in 1988 at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Three earthquakes hit in one day, the largest of which was 6.6 on the Richter scale, according to Geoscience Australia.
“Sometimes they appear out of nowhere, because we’re looking at such a small time frame on the scale of geological history,” Pascal said.
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