Our amazing planet.

Ominous Find: Massive Chile Quake May Lead to Another

The massive earthquake that rocked Chile last year did not eliminate risk of future quakes in the region, and might have even increased it, scientists have found.

The magnitude 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile in 2010 struck off the coast of parts of the country holding 80 percent of its population. The quake killed more than 500 people, injured about 12,000 more, damaged or destroyed at least 370,000 houses and triggered a swarm of smaller quakes thousands of miles away in California.

To investigate what the long-term effects of the 2010 Chile earthquake might have been, researchers focused on the nearest seismic gap, an area along a fault where relatively few earthquakes have occurred recently but where powerful quakes have taken place in the past and where energy for another disaster might be accumulating now.

Since the last great quake on this seismic gap happened while Charles Darwin was visiting in 1835, geophysicist Stefano Lorito at the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome and his colleagues named it the Darwin gap.

To see if the 2010 quake might have helped release pent-up stress in the Darwin gap, scientists modeled how it might have affected the gap by analyzing tsunami readings gathered by gauges in the water and land observations taken by satellite, GPS and the human eye.

The investigators found the earthquake ruptured only part of the Darwin gap. An area of stored energy remains unbroken there, and the 2010 earthquake might have actually stressed it further.

"A new magnitude 7 to 8 earthquake might be expected in that region," Lorito told OurAmazingPlanet.

The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 30 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Charles Q. Choi
Live Science Contributor
Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Live Science and Space.com. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica.