It is uncertain whether earthquakes mostly in Taitung County last weekend were a normal release of tectonic energy or a sign of something else, a geologist told reporters on Wednesday.
On Saturday, a magnitude 6.4 temblor with its epicenter in Taitung’s Guanshan Township (關山) struck at 9:02pm, Central Weather Bureau data showed.
On Sunday, a magnitude 6.8 quake was recorded at 2:44pm with its epicenter in Chihshang Township (池上), the data showed.
The two largest quakes were accompanied by dozens of smaller seismic events.
Taiwan did not start keeping records of earthquakes until the 1970s, a span too brief to yield insight on the average interval of powerful quakes, geologist Huang Hsin-hua (黃信樺) wrote for Science Media Center Taiwan, an online science source.
Powerful quakes occur infrequently and a magnitude 7 tremblor might not strike an area again for more than 100 years, said Huang, a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Earth Sciences.
Taiwan’s seismographic records do not provide enough information for geologists to form definitive conclusions about the nature of quakes here, he said, adding that the country probably had not yet recorded a 50-year temblor.
“When observational data date back only 50 years, discussions of what constitutes a normal quake is necessarily tentative and comes in a reference range,” he said. “There are no sure answers.”
An academic dispute over the existence of a faultline beneath the Central Mountain Range has spilled into media reports following the weekend’s heightened seismic activity, Huang said.
Although no evidence of such a fault has been observed on the surface, the westerly distribution of quakes in Taiwan proper is indicative that such a rift might run beneath the mountains, he said, citing aftershock patterns from events in 2006 and 2019.
The National Center on Earthquake Engineering Research might be in error by saying that the magnitude 6.8 quake in Chihshang was the mainshock and the magnitude 6.4 event in Guanshan an aftershock, as that would imply that there were 70 tremors before the main event, which would be highly unusual, he said.
More likely, the two quakes were separate sequences, he said, adding that this scenario suggests the temblors resulted from interactions between complex fault systems.
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