HAITI - THE EARTHQUAKE OF 12 JANUARY 2010
The major, shallow earthquake of 12 January 2010 that struck Haiti, occurred along a lateral offset segment of the strike-slip, Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault Zone (EPGFZ) which had been locked for 250 years. The last destructive event on this segment occurred in 1770. Minor precursor tremors in 2008 should have been indicative of stress build-up and that large, long overdue, earthquake was highly probable.
The 2010 earthquake was an exceptional episode of sudden strain release over a wide area. Strong ground motions lasting for 35-40 seconds were felt as far away as Jamaica. At least 24 strong aftershocks (M5.0 to M5.9) followed to the west in the region known as Mirogoane Lakes – a basin formed by a 5 km pull-apart displacement from EPGFZ. The focal mechanism and the distribution of aftershocks indicated a short rupture, estimated at 75 km. A local tsunami generated from coastal subsidence run inland for several hundred meters at Petit Paradis.
Major earthquakes occurred in Haiti in 1554, 1701, 1751, 1770, 1783, 1842, 1860 and 1887. The EPGFZE along the southern part and the Septentrional (SFZ) along the north are the two major fault systems that traverse Haiti and parts of the Dominican Republic in an approximate east-west direction. They are part of a broader, diffuse boundary that has resulted in an extensive, internal deformational slab of the North American Plate - known as the Gonave microplate - by its interaction, collision and subduction with the Caribbean tectonic plate. The northern boundary of the Gonave microplate is defined by the Oriente strike-slip fault south of Cuba, which appears to be an extension of the SFZ fault system traversing the northern part of the island of Hispaniola.
Strong, destructive earthquakes on the SFZ occurred in the past and will occur again and will impact both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Between the two major EPGFZE and SFZ strike-slip fault systems, the central part of Haiti shows a diffuse fracture zone which trends at N130. The most recent phase of tectonism involves strong uplifts and broad, open folding along NW-striking axes, which is consistent with the regional maximum deformation pattern predicted for E-W left-lateral shear along the North America—Caribbean plate boundary. The east and west boundaries of the Gonave microplate are defined by Puerto Rico and the Cayman Spreading Center, respectively.
The formation of the 1200-km-long EPGFZE fault system is the southern moving edge of the microplate. It provides a ‘bypass’, strike-slip fault, which has allowed continued, unimpeded eastward motion of the smaller Caribbean plate in southern Hispaniola - past zones of blocking convergence from the north. The fault has a total offset of 30-50 km along Haiti's southern peninsula and to the east extends into the Muertos Trench subduction zone. To the west, it continues offshore to eastern Jamaica crossing beneath the 50-km wide Jamaica Passage. The EPGFZE fault is similar in structure and character to the San Andreas fault of California and to the Northern Anatolian fault system in Asia Minor, in that it also involves sequential, strike-slip displacements. Coulomb stress is evident to the segment east of the area stricken by the 2010 event, so another earthquake could occur in the future. Haiti is vulnerable to tsunamis originating from earthquakes along the Muertos Trench boundary, the Puerto Rico subduction margin, as well as from quakes in near the Gulf of Gonave.
A major earthquake struck Haiti in the early evening of January 12, 2010. It resulted in extensive destruction and thousands of deaths and injuries in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas close to the capital. It was the worst earthquake to strike the country in the last 200 years. A local tsunami watch was issued for Haiti, Cuba, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. A local tsunami occurred in the area known as Petit Paradis.
THE EARTHQUAKE OF JANUARY 12, 2010
Haiti is part of the Greater Antilles Islands in the Caribbean. It is situated between Puerto Rico and Cuba and occupies the western side of the island of Hispaniola. The 12 January 2010 earthquake occurred along a lateral offset of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault Zone (EPGFZ) which has been locked for the last 250 years and had accumulated great stress. The last major, destructive earthquake had occurred in 1770. However minor tremors were felt in 2008 in Petionville, Delmas, Croix des Bouquets and La Plaine. These tremors were indicative of stress build-up on this segment of EPGFZ, and that a large, long overdue earthquake was highly probable. Unfortunately, not much attention was given to the precursor events. Presently, it is not known whether all the stress along this segment of the fault zone has been released by the 12 January 2010 earthquake. It may not have been. It is therefore is possible that stress transference may result in subsequent strong earthquakes or aftershocks in southern Haiti and other segments of EPGFZ.
DATE AND TIME - Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 21:53:10 UTC; 04:53:10 PM local time.
EPICENTER - 18.457 N, 72.533 W (USGS)
MAGNITUDE - Moment Magnitude Mw = 7.0
Focal Mechanism (USGS)
AFTERSHOKS - At least 24 aftershocks followed the main shock, ranging from 5.0 to 5.9 on the Richter scale. Most of the aftershocks occurred to the west of the main earthquake in the region known as the Mirogoane Lakes - a basin formed by a 5 km pull-apart displacement from EPGFZ (Mann et al., 1995). More strong aftershocks can be expected.
DISTANCES - 25 km (15 miles) WSW of PORT-AU-PRINCE; 130 km (80 miles) E of Les Cayes, 150 km (95 miles) S of Cap-Haitien, Haiti 1125 km (700 miles) SE of Miami, Florida
FOCAL DEPTH - 13 km (8.1 miles) (USGS)
PARAMETERS - (USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)) NST=312, Nph=312, Dmin=143.7 km, Rmss=0.93 sec, Gp= 25°, M-type=teleseismic moment magnitude (Mw), Version=9
RUPTURE LENGTH - Based on the distribution of aftershocks, it appears that the earthquake's rupture was relatively short and estimated at about 75 km.
GROUND MOTIONS - The earthquake occurred along a strike-slip fault and resulted in substantial lateral ground movements. Eyewitnesses reported that the strong ground motions lasted for 35-40 seconds. The shaking was felt throughout the region and as far away as Jamaica.
DAMAGE AND CASUALTIES - There was extensive devastation at Port-Au-Prince, the capital, and the surrounding areas. Thousands of people were injured or killed. As of the writing of this update the official death toll was 212,000. However, the final death toll may never be known with certainty, as there were mass burials without proper cataloguing and identification of victims. Thousands more remained buried by the debris of collapsed buildings. The earthquake was particularly destructive because of its shallow depth and its occurrence near a densely populated urban area where many buildings with poor construction existed. Most buildings were either destroyed or heavily damaged, including the presidential palace.
TSUNAMI - A small local tsunami was reported at the coastal village of Petit Paradis on the western coast of Haiti. It occurred almost immediately after the earthquake. The waves run inland for several hundred yards and caused some damage in addition to that caused by the earthquake. Seven people were swept out to sea. There were trees in the water after the earthquake which is evidence of ground subsidence in this coastal area. The subsidence contributed to the generation of the waves and the flooding. Similar subsidence and tsunami flooding occurred in the Gulf of Gonâve when the 1770 earthquake struck the same area.
Tsunami Generating Area as inferred from Distribution of Static Elevation Changes and visual field observations (Modiified web map of reported static elevation changes with superimposed tsunami generation area estimated at 300sq. Kms.)
PAST EARTHQUAKES IN HAITI
Frequent earthquakes in the Caribbean region have been responsible for great damage and loss of lives in the past. Major earthquake disasters occurred in Jamaica in 1692 and 1907, in Cape Haitien in 1842 and at Pointe-a-Pitre in 1843 (Tomblin 1991). Haiti is particularly vulnerable to earthquake destruction because of high population density and poor housing construction on steep slopes. There is a long record of past destructive earthquakes. The historic records indicates that most of the large destructive earthquakes in Haiti were related to the the E-W trending Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system (EPGFZ), although destructive earthquakes have also occurred on the Septentrional Fault Zone (SFZ). Large, destructive earthquakes occurred in Haiti in 1701, 1751, 1770, 1842, 1860 and 1887 (Dixon et al., 1998; Scherer, 1912; Mann, 2005).
1554 - The first recorded earthquake occurred in 1554 when Haiti was still the Spanish colony of Española. This earthquake destroyed Concepción de la Vega and Santiago de los Caballeros.
1701 - The earthquake of 9 November 1701 was one of the most destructive. It is believed to have occurred between Ile de la Gonave and Haiti's southern peninsula. It caused severe damage and subsidence in and around Léogâne. Reportedly, part of the coastal road from Léogâne to Petit Goâve sank into the sea. Port-au-Prince had not yet been established (Taber, 1922).
1751 - A major earthquake on 18 October 1751, with an estimated magnitude of up to 8, destroyed the recently founded Port-au-Prince and caused severe damage in the adjacent region of southern Haiti (Taber, 1922). This was a shallow earthquake. its epicenter was estimated to have been at 18.50 N -70.70 W
1751 - Two more severe earthquakes on 21 and 22 November 1751 destroyed the newly established town of Port-au-Prince. The quakes occurred on the segment of he Enriquillo Fault Zone, which begins in Petionville and ends at Tiburon. The extensive ground cracking and liquefaction on the Cul-de-Sac plain resulted in the collapse of many buildings.
1770 - Another major earthquake occurred at 7:15 pm on 3 June 1770 followed shortly afterwards by a second shock. The shocks had a total duration of about four minutes and caused extensive destruction from Croix de Bouquets in the east through the plain of the Cul-de-Sac, to Port-au-Prince, as well as along the north coast of the Tiburon Peninsula as far as Miragoâne to the west (Taber, 1922). The village of Croix des Bouquets, sank below sea level. The quake leveled all the buildings between Lake Miragoâne and Petit-Goâve, to the west of Port-au-Prince. Reportedly it caused landslides in the mountains, which dammed rivers. This was a shallow earthquake and its epicenter was estimated to have been at 18.30 N -72.20 W. Strong ground motions were felt as far as in Cap-Haïtien, about 160 kilometers (99 mi) away. There were reports that even chimneys in Jamaica collapsed.
The quake occurred on the same segment of he Enriquillo Fault Zone, which begins in Petionville and ends at Tiburon. As in 1751, there was extensive ground cracking and liquefaction in the wide Cul-de-Sac plain - a rift valley which extends eastwards into the Dominican Republic. Ground liquefaction at Port-au-Prince destroyed all its buildings, even those that had survived the 1751 earthquake. At Grand Goave the foot of the mountain of La Saline was partly submerged.
The death toll of the earthquake was surprisingly low. The reason may have been a rumbling sound that preceded the earthquake which served as a warning for people to evacuate structures that subsequently collapsed. Only 200 people died in Port-au-Prince from the collapse of buildings, including 79 of 80 people in the hospital. Fifty more people died in Léogâne. However, following the earthquake, 15,000 more people died from famine and diseases.
Also, the earthquake generated a tsunami in the Gulf of Gonâve that inundated the coastline inland by as much as 7.2 kilometers (4.5 mi) in the Cul-de-Sac depression (O'Loughlin & Lander, 2003). However this extensive inundation may have been partially due to the effects of subsidence and ground liquefaction. - as in the Gulf of Izmit, in Turkey when the 1999 struck. The death toll from the tsunami is not known.
1783 - A strong earthquake in 1783 caused partial collapse of the principal church in Santigo.
1842 - A disastrous earthquake on May 7, 1842, struck near Cap Haitien, a town of approximately ten thousand on the north coast of Haiti, killing half of its population. According to newspaper accounts, there were two distinct shocks - the second lasting longer. Eyewitnesses claimed that the second shock was more violent and lasted for about three minutes (this may be an exaggeration as the duration may have been confused with subsequent aftershock activity). The earthquake did serious damage to Henri Christophe’s palace at Sans Souci image and to the Citadelle La Ferrière near Milot. Milot was Haïti’s former capital under the self-proclaimed King Henri Christophe, who ascended to power in 1807, three years after Haïti had gained independence from France. A tsunami with an approximate runup of 4 or 5 meters (13 to 16 feet), struck the nearby city of Port de Paix (O'Loughlin & Lander, 2003). The tsunami was preceeded by a 60 meters (197 ft) withdrawal of the sea. The death toll from the tsunami is not known.
1946 - In 1946, the Dominican Republic had an 8.1 magnitude earthquake with impact which partially extended into Haiti. The earthquake generated a tsunami. 20,000 people were rendered homeless (O'Loughlin & Lander, 2003).
Large historical earthquakes along the Gonave microplate boundaries region. Focal mechanism and surface projection of estimated rupture planes/geometry for large (M>7.0) historic and a recent M6.5 earthquake in the region since 1751. NHDF: North Hispaniola Deformation Front; NHF: North Hispaniola Fault; WP: Windward Passage; EFZ: Enriquillo Fault Zone; SFZ: Septentrional Fault Zone; MP: Mona Passage; PR: Puerto Rico. From Ali et al., GJI, 2008 (see reference below).
SEISMOTECTONICS OF THE CARIBBEAN REGION - A Brief Overview
The Caribbean is a region of considerable tectonic complexity. The Caribbean plate is surrounded on three sides by the much larger North and South American plates, both of which are moving approximately westward with respect to the Caribbean plate at an estimated rate or about 20 to 30 millimeters per year. There is a moderate level of inter-plate seismicity and interplate and intraplate seismic and volcanic activity. The region is characterized by three main types of plate boundaries: convergent, divergent and transform. The tectonic activity results in frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and mass edifice failures of volcanic island flanks. Most of the destructive events occur near or along the geotectonically active plate boundaries and are associated with complex mechanisms characteristic of each source. Generally, active seismic source mechanisms in regions of subduction in the Caribbean involve relatively small crustal blocks (Pararas-Carayannis, 2006).
In the Eastern Caribbean, the interactions between the larger tectonic plates and the Caribbean plate are responsible for zones of subduction and the formation of the West Indies Volcanic Island Arc on the overlying plate. Seismic events are principally associated with a subduction zone along a north-south line, just east of the main island arc where the North American Plate dips from east to west beneath the Caribbean Plate. Additionally, the down-dip compression on the North American plate caused by such tectonic movement has also created a tensional volcanic back-arc which is characterized by spreading and shallower seismic activity (Pararas-Carayannis, 2006). As the fore-arc is driven by the mantle drag toward a trench – the zone of subduction - the resulting compression is balanced with the slab pull. This flow in the mantle causes the back-arc spreading (Seno and Yamanaka, 1998). Arc stresses and such back-arc spreading result in increased volcanic activity in the Lesser Antilles region. Also, the inter-plate tectonic interaction near or along the marginal boundaries often results in moderate to large earthquakes. Superimposed on the inter-plate tectonic interaction, is a pattern of intra-plate activity - which is more pronounced in the Leeward Islands region where subduction by the Barracuda Rise adds additional strain on both the "subducted" North American Plate and the overlying Caribbean Plate. In this region earthquakes are generally shallow. In the region northwest of Trinidad there is another concentration of earthquake activity where the strike of the plate boundary changes direction. The earthquakes in this region are of intermediate depth (Pararas-Carayannis, 2006a).
Along the Northern Caribbean margin, including areas in the vicinities of Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Virgin Islands, convergent, compressional and collisional tectonic activity - caused primarily from the eastward movement of the Caribbean Plate in relation to the North American and South American Plates - is also responsible for zones of subduction and the formation of volcanic island arcs on the overlying plate. The inter-plate tectonic interaction near or along these northern marginal boundaries results in moderate seismic activity. Most of the earthquakes are of shallow depth. Near the plate boundaries moderate, deeper, intra-plate earthquakes can also occur. The intra-plate earthquakes are caused by internal deformation in a slab of the North American Plate. Concentrations of these earthquakes can occur to focal depths of up to 200 kilometers.
The deformation within the North American-Caribbean plate boundary zone has resulted in what appears to be a segmentation of the Caribbean plate into three major microplates with diffused boundaries, each requiring an individual pole of rotation to describe its motion relative to the North American plate (Heubeck & Mann, 1991).
TECTONIC SETTING AND SEISMIC ACTIVITY IN HAITI - A Brief Overview
There are two major fault systems that traverse the island of Hispaniola - where Haiti is located - in an approximate east-west direction. The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system (EPGFZE) along the southern part and the Septentrional fault system along the north (Mann et al., 1995).
The two major fault systems that cross Haiti are part of a broader, diffuse boundary that has resulted in an extensive, internal deformational slab of the North American Plate by its interaction, collision and subduction with the Caribbean tectonic plate. Based on seismic data and GPS studies of lateral movements in the region, the existence of a postulated Gonave sliver microplate has been confirmed (Dixon et al., 1998). Haiti is within this microplate and tectonic motions are accommodated on the above mentioned faults and their offsets, that are located a little bit away from the actual plate boundary, further inside the plate's interior. The EPGFZ is thought to be the southern boundary of the Gonave microplate (Mann et al., 1995).
The earthquake of January 12, 2010 - as most of the destructive earthquakes in Haiti in the past - occurred on the segment, or rather on an offset segment, of the EPGFZE which is associated mostly with shallow earthquakes having left-lateral strike slips. However there is evidence that both vertical and lateral movement can also occur on these faults - as when the 1701 earthquake struck. This segment of the EPGFZE in the southern peninsula had been locked for almost for 250 years. The last major earthquake in this particular segment had occurred in 1770.
THE GONAVE MICROPLATE
The existence of the postulated Gonave microplate on the Northern Caribbean margin has been confirmed from GPS measurements, seismic data and patterns of folding, faulting and tectonically-induced, Quaternary uplift of coral reefs in western and central Hispaniola (DeMets & Wiggins-Grandison, 2007). Further west the northern boundary of the microplate is defined by the Oriente strike-slip fault south of Cuba (Calais and Mercier de Lepinaya, 2003), which appeears to be an extention of the Septentrional fault system. The east and west boundaries of the microplate are defined by Puerto Rico (PR) and the Cayman Spreading Center (CSC).
The formation of the 1200-km-long Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system (EPGFZE) is the southern moving edge of the Gonave microplate. It provides a ‘bypass’, strike-slip fault which has allowed continued, unimpeded eastward motion of the smaller Caribbean plate in southern Hispaniola - past zones of blocking convergence from the north. The elongated Gonave microplate occupies an area of about 190,000 square kilometers of the northeastern Caribbean plate, which is in the process of shearing off and accreting to the North American plate (DeMets & Wiggins-Grandison, 2007; Mann, et al., 2008). Most of the seismic activity of the Gonave microplate is concentrated in Jamaica as shown by the epicenters of earthquakes in one of the figures below .
Location and tectonic setting for Gonave microplate and of north central Caribbean (modified graphic from (DeMets & Wiggins-Grandison, 2007).
Seismicity of the Gonave Microplate (web graphic from Earthquakes in Jamaica)
THE ENRIQUILLO-PLAINTAIN GARDEN FAULT SYSTEM (EPGFZE)
Satellite imagery and field observations indicate that the EPGFZE extends onshore from central Hispaniola east of Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic, to the westernmost end of the southern peninsula of Haiti. The fault extends into the Muertos Trenchand has a total offset of 30-50 km along Haiti's southern peninsula (Calmus 1983). From there, it continues offshore to eastern Jamaica crossing beneath the 50-km wide Jamaica Passage. The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault is similar in structure and character to the San Andreas fault of California in that it also involves strike-slip displacements.
EPGFZE and SFZ in Haiti. Aftershock Distribution of 12 January 2010 Earthquake (modified graphic of the British Geological Survey)
THE SEPTENTRIONAL FAULT ZONE (SFZ)
The Septentrional Fault Zone (SFZ) is a left-lateral fault zone located north of Hispaniola between the Caribbean and the North American plates. This is a highly seismic zone. It forms part of the diffused north boundary on the Gonave microplate. It runs through the Cibao valley in the northern Dominican Republic. To the east, it extends into the Puerto Rico subduction zone. To the west, its offset crosses northern Haiti and extends to the southern part of Cuba. There is a high probability that a strong, destructive earthquake on the SFZ could occur in the near future and impact both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Between these two major strike-slip fault systems (the EPGFZE and the SFZ) the central part of Haiti shows a diffuse fracture zone that trends at N130 (Pubellier et al, 2003). The most recent phase of tectonism in Haiti involves strong uplifts and broad, open folding along NW-striking axes, which is consistent with the regional maximum deformation pattern predicted for E-W left-lateral shear along the North America—Caribbean plate boundary (Pubellier et al, 2003). The earthquake of 12 January 2010 exhibited this type of deformational pattern. Its strike had a NW orientation. (NST=312).
STRESS TRANSFERENCE AND POTENTIAL FUTURE EARTHQUAKES IN HAITI.
The 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti was an exceptional episode of sudden strain release over a wide area. It is not known whether the strain has been totally released along this segment of the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault. Based on localized crustal movements, as well as the known oblique convergence between the North American and Caribbean plates, it would be expected that stress is distributed, not only between the interphases of subduction but also along the major strike-slip faults within the overriding Gonave microplate. Coulomb stress is evident to the segnent east of the stricken area, so an earthquake could occur along this eastern segment in the future. Such progression of Coulomb stress occurs along similar strike stlip faults, as for example the Northern Anatolian fault in Turkey (Pararas-Carayannis, 1999). The JAXA image below (Univ of fMiami) depicts the 2010 rupture and the potential future rupture to the east that may result from stress tranference.
Syed Tabrez Ali, Andrew M. Freed, Eric Calais, David M. Manaker, and William R. McCann, 2008. Coulomb stress evolution in Northeastern Caribbean over the past 250 years due to coseismic, postseismic and interseismic deformation. Geophys. J. Int. (2008) 174, 904–918.
Calais E. and Mercier de Lepinaya, B., 2003. From transtension to transpression along the northern Caribbean plate boundary off Cuba: implications for the Recent motion of the Caribbean plate. Report of Institut de Géodynamique, Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Valbonne, France.
Dixon, T.H., Farina, F., DeMets, C., Jansma, P., Mann, P. and Calais, E., 1998. Relative motion between the Caribbean and North American plates and related boundary zone deformation from a decade of GPS observations, J. Geophys. Res., vol 103, pp 15157-15182.
DeMets, C, and Wiggins-Grandison, M., 2007. Deformation of Jamaica and motion of the Gonave microplate from GPS and seismic data. Geophys. J. Int. (2007) 168, 362–378.
Heubeck, C. and P. Mann, 1991, Geologic evaluation of plate kinematic models for the North American-Caribbean plate boundary zone. Tectonophysics, Vol. 191, Issues 1-2, 20 May 1991, Pages 1-26
Mann, P., Taylor, F. W., Edwards R.L. and Ku, T.-L., (1995). Actively evolving microplate formation by oblique collision and sideways motion along strike-slip faults: An example from the northeastern Caribbean plate margin, Tectonophysics, vol 246, pp 1-69.
Mann, P.; Prentice, C.; King, W.; Demets, C.; Wiggins-Grandison, M.; Benford, B., 2008. Late Quaternary Activity and Seismogenic Potential of the Gonave Microplate: Plantain Garden Strike-Slip Fault Zone of Eastern Jamaica. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2008, abstract #T11B-1869
Mann, P. 2005. Active Tectonics and Seismic Hazards of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Offshore Areas (book).
Pararas-Carayannis, G. 1999. The Earthquake and Tsunami of August 17, 1999 in the Sea of Marmara, Turkey. http://www.drgeorgepc.com/Tsunami1999Turkey.html
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Seno T. and Yamanaka Y., 1998. Arc stresses determined by slabs: Implications for back-arc spreading. Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Geopys. Res. Lett.,Å@3227-3230, 1998
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REUTERS AND AP PHOTOS OF THE EARTHQUAKE DAMAGE IN THE PORT-AU-PRINCE
The Presidential Palace