Rare Earthquake Swarm Strikes Puerto Rico
January 11, 2020 9:15 AM   Subscribe

A swarm of earthquakes ranging up to 6.4 on the Richter scale has struck along the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

Along with one death, the earthquakes knocked out the power for much of Puerto Rico and destroyed Punta Ventana, a natural bridge formation.

The quakes are not abating with a 6.0/5.9 quake this morning, nearly two weeks after the cluster started. This map has the filter set for quakes at least 4.0.
posted by dances_with_sneetches (29 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live near the epicenter.

Please limit the "What's next for Puerto Rico, Godzilla?" comments.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:16 AM on January 11 [49 favorites]


Before anyone asks : USGS and the Dept. of Energy says, via CBS This Morning's lead nat'l correspondent, there is no known fracking operation in or around Puerto Rico. Granted, we'd be looking for wastewater injection wells rather than fracking operations themselves, but I believe the answer is good enough.
posted by suckerpunch at 9:32 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Could a moderator change the title to: Rare Earthquake Swarm Strikes Puerto Rico?

I'm sorry. I haven't been getting much sleep lately.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:39 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I made that edit. Sending you good thoughts over there.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:43 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Here is some useful context from the USGS about why this region of the Caribbean sees a lot of earthquakes. You might think that a swarm of earthquakes is useful in relieving fault line pressure and avoiding or postponing a really major quake, but that's not the case. Keep in mind that in the Richter scale a 6.0 event is 10 times stronger than a 5.0, 100 times stronger than a 4.0, etc. So if a fault is building up to a major event like a 7.0 or 8.0, all those hundreds of 4.0s amount to only a fraction of the "big one" that could be waiting to happen.
posted by beagle at 9:44 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I was reading that the near-constant earthquakes have been happening since Dec 28 and that many people are just sleeping outside. 528 quakes in the last week. OVER FIVE HUNDRED.

dances_with_sneetches, let us know if there's anything residents of the continental U.S. can do.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:44 AM on January 11 [12 favorites]


This tweet of the USGS map showing "M2.5+ earthquakes over the past 30 days colored based on the time they occurred and sized by magnitude"...
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:49 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


This is something you can do. Get rid of Trump. Puerto Ricans (in Puerto Rico) don't have a vote in this. We are still suffering from his Maria response.
I don't know why the 40 billion in aid for Puerto Rico (for Maria) is still being allowed to be held up.

Maybe if we told him or Giuliani that we had dirt on Elizabeth Warren. . .
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:51 AM on January 11 [35 favorites]


Although 1.0 increase in the magnitude of a quake represents a ten-fold increase in the amplitude, 31.6 times the energy is released. I suppose that has something to do with the extra dimensions in which the energy is released.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:56 AM on January 11


Puerto Rico is very seismically active on a daily basis, but the quakes are generally quite small. the striking thing about this swarm is not really the quantity but the relatively larger quakes than usual. basically going from quakes every day that cause no damage to a bunch of quakes mostly large enough to cause damage.

my heart aches for PR, its a beautiful island and I for one will do my best to vote the drumpster fire out so we can take the care of PR that it needs and deserves.
posted by supermedusa at 10:43 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Here is some useful context from the USGS thanks beagle I didn't realize PR was sitting on a subduction zone.
posted by supermedusa at 10:46 AM on January 11


A friend was planning to fly to Puerto Rico earlier this week to see his brother, who is on hospice. It was to be a final farewell visit.
posted by nanook at 10:48 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Before anyone asks : USGS and the Dept. of Energy says, via CBS This Morning's lead nat'l correspondent, there is no known fracking operation in or around Puerto Rico. Granted, we'd be looking for wastewater injection wells rather than fracking operations themselves, but I believe the answer is good enough.

There's some chatter on Twitter about large ships that are fixed off-shore, drones being shot down and explosions being heard from fishermen around those areas. Chatter is just chatter, and who knows, but if the US is withholding aid from PR, it's probably an open question if the relevant agencies would be paying close attention to what's going on there, as well, where privately-operated, off-shore fracking or wastewater injection operations are concerned.

We've had past discussions on Metafilter about earthquakes in Oklahoma, where some people here strenuously denied any connections between fracking and wastewater injection into faults, and subsequent quakes, which turned out in the end to be directly causal, in point of fact. It's unfortunate that government agencies may need to be questioned, but that, perhaps, is a consequence of the regulation-averse regime we are living under.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:48 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


To put this in perspective, I have lived in Southern Puerto Rico for over twenty years. Before two weeks ago, there have have been zero quakes of 5.0 or greater from the Caribbean side (I could find that number at the earthquake) and probably zero quakes of 4.0 or greater.

The historical quakes referred to in the USGS link (linked previously by beagle) have all been on the north side of Puerto Rico, most of them along the Bunce Fault, about 40 miles out in the Atlantic ocean. Some of the quakes they refer to say that the area is active are in the Dominican Republic.

They show no fault mapped in Southern Puerto Rico. This is something novel.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:06 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Folks are living outside, and need shelter (tents), ways to cook, and health supplies. In the "anything you can do" bucket, here are two ways to contribute direct aid:

An Amazon wishlist of supplies needed in a community in Guyanilla.


An Amazon wishlist of supplies needed in a community in Guanica.

I strongly believe that the people know what the people need, and sending cash directly to people is >>> Red Cross, etc. I myself have sent cash directly to people in Guayanilla to buy tents, solar panels, groceries, or a book and a beer if that's what they need today. I don't know the people who organized these lists myself, but they are friends of friends (who have done tons of demonstrated direct aid work since Maria).
posted by amelioration at 3:08 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


thanks, amelioration.

a·mel·io·rate (ə-mēl′yə-rāt′)

To make or become better; improve: Volunteers were able to ameliorate conditions in the refugee camp.

(Example from the dictionary)

4.9 aftershock as I was typing this
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:55 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


@dances_with_sneches, you are mistaken. I have pulled the database of Faults of the Caribbean Region (2004 edition) as published by the USGS and imported them into Google Earth to produce this map (faults indicated in by white lines for contrast). There have been numerous quakes reported in the region previously although not the enormous magnitude 7 and 8 ones indicated on the article you linked.
posted by interogative mood at 4:24 PM on January 11


My thoughts are with you, dances_with_sneetches.

I have colleagues who have irreplaceable biological samples stored in -80C freezers at a facility in the north of the island. It's not close to the epicenter of the quakes, but disruptions to the power grid mean they've been without power for roughly 12 hours a day, from what I've heard. They have backup generators, but fuel supplies are limited. With a more robust infrastructure that had been allowed to recover from Maria, this probably wouldn't be an issue. If the samples thaw, it will represent a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in US and international publicly-funded biomedical research expenditures, as well as thousands of person-hours of labor.

This pales in comparison to the human toll of lost homes or lost lives if a really big one hits, but it's a small illustration of another effect of the quakes, and how destabilized the island has been due to the lack of proper government aid, and how stupidly wasteful and shortsighted the idiots that have taken control of our federal government are being. You can't prevent earthquakes or hurricanes, but you can damn well help people rebuild and make infrastructure stronger when they happen.
posted by biogeo at 5:03 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


This shows earthquakes going back 100 years in the Puerto Rico area that were over 6.0. None were in this part of the island (with the exception of this week).

Using the filter for 5.0 earthquakes, other than the last two weeks, none were in this region going back the last nine years. (I don't know how to extend the search beyond that time, it seems to give the 30 most recent earthquakes.) If I select the Guayanilla area as the filter, no earthquakes of 5.0 have been in the area going back over 30 years.

I know, having lived here for 20 years, there have been no sizable earthquakes originating from this area. Sizable in that they were noticeable to me or spoke of locally. From my recent experience, 4.0 is plenty sizable.

We have not been a seismic area.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:09 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


You can look at earthquakes going back to 1970 on the IRIS Earthquake Browser. There's some activity in the swarm area before this year, but nothing comparable. Here's a quick map I threw together using the IRIS data and the USGS faults that interrogative mood dug up, with 2019/20 quakes in red. This swarm is unprecedented in the catalogue — though bear in mind that a 40-year catalogue is pretty short where Earth processes are concerned. I can sort of convince myself that there are north-south lineations in the swarm events, which would put them at right angles to the mapped faults — maybe there are blind conjugate faults in the area?
posted by irrelephant at 5:19 PM on January 11


I'm thinking of you, dances_with_sneetches. We've got a vacant lot in Rincon, with plans to build a house. We put a lot of thought into hurricane proofing and very little into earthquakes. I can't imagine we are the only people to make that trade off.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:04 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Our thoughts our with you Dances With Sneetches, and everybody else on the island. My wife and I have our third trip in the last 5 years booked for the middle of April. We normally split the week between Rincon` and San Juan but staying in San Juan the entire week this time.
posted by COD at 6:15 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


These percentages from the USGS are relevant.

Over the next 30 days.

75% chance the aftershocks will diminish.
22% chance a second equal quake will occur.
3% chance a 7.0 or larger quake will occur.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:33 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


It is understandable that given past announcements of likely oil and natural gas deposits in the area where the swarm is occurring that people would have suspicions that something had happened. People prefer an explanation and a cause. It will be difficult to ever know the truth.
posted by interogative mood at 8:19 PM on January 11


amelioration, thank you for those links to Amazon lists.

dances_with_sneetches, <3
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 11:36 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]




Trump attaches severe restrictions on aid to Puerto Rico.

Just in case you had thought the earthquakes had stopped, they are still going on. Five were 3.9 or greater in the last 24 hours. We did have a 5.2 two days ago.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:58 AM on January 16


Puerto Rican urban planning scholar Ivis Garcia Zambrana (who is awesome) is raising funds for the Puerto Rican Agenda and identifying organizations on the ground in need of microgrants. I'm making my donation now!
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:25 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez fired the director of the island’s emergency management agency Saturday after the discovery of a warehouse filled with water, cots and other supplies
posted by adamvasco at 3:28 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


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