Chile quake, Pacific tsunami watch: open thread


A todos los amigos chilenos de Boing Boing, y toda la gente de latinoamerica que tienen familiares y amigos allá, les saludamos y esperamos por lo mejor para ustedes y sus familias.

An 8.8 earthquake struck Chile last night, killing at least 150 people, leaving some half a million people homeless, and setting off tsunami activity that now threaten islands in the Pacific, and coastlines from South America to Canada. Related quake activity has claimed lives and caused structure collapse in Argentina.

Chile sits along the seismologically volatile "Ring of Fire," and has a long history of strong earthquakes. While the force of this quake was some 800 to 1,000 times stronger than the quake that recently struck Haiti, the destruction and loss of life, by early estimates, seems lower—in part, say some, because the country has more wealth, better infrastructure and architectural standards, and is generally well-prepared.

As I publish this blog post, the National Weather Service reports that the waves hitting the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia were smaller than forecast, causing some to believe that the coming impact on Hawaii may be less than initially feared.

A few early resources here, please feel free to share others in the comments:

* Photographs at
* Google:
* NOAA's tsunami tracker
* USGS: Surviving a Tsunami - Lessons from Chile, Hawaii & Japan
* USGS: ongoing notifications of aftershocks in Chile. As I publish this post at 11:15am PT, there have already been 50 aftershocks, many of which were over 5.5 in magnitude.
* Once again, Robert Mackey at NYT's The Lede Blog is doing a great job gathering loose ends into must-read blogging.

(some items via @seanbonner, @mgorbis)


  1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration needs to learn how to color maps better. On this map a surge the might come up to my ankles is the same color as one that’s above my waist. By volume of water it’s 1000x different. (0.008 m3 vs 1 m3).

    Interesting map, I’m amazed how fast they can get out a fluid dynamic simulation maps like this. Anyone know how accurate tsunami predictions are now?

    1. It’s not that they can’t color, it’s that they have no idea above a certain level and thus everything above that has been colored equally. Pretty nifty for a calculation done so fast.

      Also, twiggy_trippit, Richter is a logarithmic scale, which is why the earthquake is called “bigger”. Of note is that different geological foundations and the depth of the earthquake are also very important in determining the effect of an earthquake (as well as the popularly known trepidation vs. oscillation deal).

  2. From Chile:

    There are still many aftershocks going on, specially in Santiago and the areas near the origin.

    Towns near Concepción were almost leveled by the earthquake and/or the tides that came afterwards. Places like Dichato or Iloca, full of tourists in their last holliday week, almost don’t exixt anymore.

    Concepción is still disconected from the rest of Chile and it’s impossible to communicate with anybody there.

    Santiago’s international airport is closed and there’s no information of when it will reopen.

    Let’s hope the tides don’t get to big when they reach the islands. Here in Chile one of the first places that where hit by them was the town on the Juan Fernández Islands.

    Up to this hour the official statistic is around 140 dead people, most of them in the agricultural strong central Chile. There are still manny buildings there made of traditional “adobe”.

  3. This is why EVERYONE should have a good pre-packed backpack with complete camping gear and another bag with extra food, water, batteries, and cooking fuel. A bicycle with repair tools is also important to have ready to go since the roads might not be passable, panniers or a trailer will be needed since riding with a heavy pack on is difficult.

    It is also why you should spend the small amount of time getting your ham radio license. A good packable used or kit HF set AND a SatCom capable vhf/uhf HT and a DIY antenna can both be bought used for under $500 combined.

  4. I wonder what impact this is having on Easter Island (which I intend to visit someday). They’re almost completely dependent on flights from Santiago for supplies.

  5. From New Zealand:

    Waves are expected to start comimg through now. Water is receding at beaches in Gisborne in the North East of the country. Some low lying areas has been evacuated. Many people on low lying eastern coast areas are evacuating voluntarily.

  6. Here on the Oregon coast, the waves are starting to roll in a bit strangely. The ocean is otherwise very calm today, no storms, so the water is flat for a while, and then waves start from way out on the horizon, much farther out than normal. A dozen or so will roll in, not very big, but pushing higher onto the beach than normal. Then, it’s flat again for a while.

    It’s pretty interesting, the beach parks are full of people watching from the cliffs, and there are quite a few surfers out, too. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be very serious here, I wish it could be just scenic and not destructive everywhere else, too.

  7. here in hawai’i, the forecast for the tsunami arrival at hilo, hawai’i (big island) was 11:05. it seemed to get started around 11:30. forecast is pretty good. currently just watching water roll in and out of hilo bay on the webcam.

  8. A group of online friends got together to raise funds for ShelterBox, to aid Haiti. The TM Fish Camp We have bought # 98 Boxes, and are currently filling Box # 99 . Their efforts in Haiti have sheltered over 80,000 people. They’re going to need even more help now.

    ShelterBox has a team on the way to Chile .

  9. I was worried about Easter Island, too, but news reports indicate that they only experienced 1-foot waves.

    I think the islanders are going to be fine on supplies: much of their supplies arrive via ship, they have a regular airlink to Tahiti in addition to Santiago, and there is robust local agriculture.

    Easter Island is an amazing place, and my impression is that the residents could hold their own almost indefinitely in any case.

  10. New Zealand has got off lightly so far – 1m long frequency waves in Whangarei with 12kt currents in the harbour. Smaller surges in Auckland, Tauranga and Gisborne.

  11. Yeah, even down here in Antarctica (I’m at McMurdo Station), we’re on restricted travel due to tsunami possibilities.

  12. Maybe my understanding of the Richter scale is wrong (I’m no geologist), but I think you’re off by one zero there – shouldn’t it be “only” (very relative term there) 80 to 100 times stronger than Haiti’s quake? That’s still a ridiculously powerful earthquake though (although they got a 9.5 quake in the 60s, the most powerful recorded quake in modern history).

  13. If anyone was wondering, reports from the Galapagos islands are saying they got off pretty easily as well with no damage. I hope relief efforts can help those in Chile very swiftly.

  14. Here in Hawaii we had a pretty easy time of it, and I eventually realized why. We had a maximum of roughly 2 meter run up by the surges (at Kahului or Hilo harbor), and the wave hit soon after low tide here, so it wasn’t much more than the usual tidal rise, just faster ups and downs. If it had hit at peak tide, things might have gotten a bit messier. Anywhere in the Pacific that the wave hit around the same time would have had similar luck.

    If you were worrying about friends in Hawaii, take a minute to send some relief money to Haiti, they still need it.

    Aloha from Honolulu.

  15. I live in Temuco, in the south of Chile. I haven’t seen much destruction around, and my family and my house are OK, but the news all around tells us of the magnitude of this. I was awake at the time of the quake, and it was by far the strongest I ever felt in my life. Really scary. My dad remembers the 1960 earthquake (the one that was 9.5 on Richter scale) so he is more or less calm. He told me aftershocks that time lasted for a month after the big shake.

    Anyway, as I read more news, I feel I was very lucky. We spend most of the day (Saturday) without water, electricity, and in some cases without phone (cell phones were pretty much dead most of the day, landlines went in and out), but we were not harmed. Others weren’t so lucky. Let’s hope they’ll recover soon.

  16. any word from Kiribati or Tuvalu? i was stationed in Kiribati for Peace Corps and a 2 meter wave would cover the entire island chain. please post or give resources for info if you know of any. thanks,

    1. I too was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kiribati and have been unable to find any news. My adopted son lives on Kiritimati Island and we have not been able to reach him since the earthquake/tsunami. Please post any news if anyone has current contacts in the country.

  17. The Richter scale (or the moment magnitude scale more commonly used today) is logarithmic, but the scaling depends on whether you are measuring the amplitude of the waves or the energy released. The Chilean quake was 8.8, the Haitian one 7.0, which indicates 63 times greater amplitude, and a release of about 500 times as much energy. In round numbers, a quake larger than another by exactly 2.0 would be a factor of 100 larger in amplitude and 1000 in energy.

    (A caveat is that this does not in fact hold exactly and deviates significantly for the largest quakes. That is one of the reasons for the existence of the Richter, moment and other magnitude scales.)

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