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An expert reveals why Australia is at risk of major earthquakes

An expert reveals why Australia is at risk of major earthquakes


Although rare, “earthquakes can occur anywhere in Australia,” says a senior seismologist at Geoscience Australia, before adding the country “can be at risk of large earthquakes as well.” The National Earthquake Risk Assessment Map predicts the areas most at risk of earthquakes. (Geoscience Australia)

Professor Phil Cummins, chief seismologist at Geoscience Australia, has listed three more cities that he believes are most prone to earthquakes.

“Adelaide comes to mind,” Cummins told

“This is in one of these high seismic areas, there are some known active faults near Adelaide.

“Canberra, too. It’s a little unusual in that after the last assessment, the risk went up as we became aware of earthquakes occurring on the Lake George fault.

“(But) perhaps the capital that shakes the most is Darwin and this is because of the earthquakes in Indonesia, which happen fairly frequently.

“It can get big enough to cause minor damage, but I think it’s a big enough distance that we’re going to see vibrations that scare people.”

Minor damage, such as this broken wall of a building, occurred after the earthquake in Melbourne on May 28 (9).

“This is a very big earthquake, not as big as the earthquake in the United States and Los Angeles, but very big,” he said.

Bigger than anything we’ve seen so far.

“We think earthquakes of this magnitude are possible, and we think there is evidence in the geological record that such earthquakes occurred in the geological past, but not in the historical past.”

Then Cummins pointed to the town of Cadell in South Australia, which is located next to a hairpin bend on the Murray River.

“This curvature is caused by a huge crustal mass that was protruded by a very large earthquake,” he said.

Cummins Australian Building Code has now added this earthquake rating factor into construction and planning.

“The building code requires earthquake-resistant construction in modern homes,” he said.

“(But) this only happened in 1989 after the Newcastle earthquake.

“The problem is that there are many homes, especially in cities, that were built before that, that weren’t built for this kind of vibration.

“You could see this in the Woods Point earthquake, and the things that failed were usually older heritage-type buildings, especially brick buildings and structures.”

After the Melbourne earthquake

So what causes Australian earthquakes?

Cummins said there is a widespread misconception that earthquakes can only occur on the “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active arc along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, far from Australia.

“The problem is that it can actually be more dangerous because people are not used to earthquakes so they don’t build buildings to be earthquake-resistant,” he said, before explaining how Australian earthquakes evolve.

“Australia is a stable continental plate, so it does not have active plate boundaries but the forces that are exerting at the plate boundaries—which are New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and even extend as far away as India—as a result, the strong forces that are exerting there are at the stresses.

“These travel through the plate, into the plate, and even though these stresses are very small, they slowly build up.

“Eventually the frictional force of faults in the Earth’s crust will exceed and these faults and earthquakes will occur – although not close to plate boundaries.

“It’s the same thing that’s happening near Melbourne right now, I don’t think there’s anything else that’s causing them to come together.”

On December 28, 1989, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck Newcastle, New South Wales. Thirteen people were killed and an estimated $4 billion in damage occurred over an area of ​​9,000 square kilometers. (Alexander James Toole / Fairfax Media)

Unfortunately, predicting where earthquakes will strike ahead of time is “extremely difficult.”

“There’s a lot of variance,” Cummins said.

“It’s really hard to do that in a time frame with the kind of precision that helps people evacuate buildings.

Also, when an earthquake does happen, the general advice is: ‘Duck, cover, and hold — so try to crouch under something that can protect you, and then hold on to it so you don’t shake.

“Don’t run out into the street where you are likely to run into debris.”

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