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Another Mega Earthquake for Chile?

Aug 14, 2014 11:33 AM EDT

Researchers are saying that the earth around Chile still hasn't sorted itself out following a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred more than a century ago. Now, a pair of studies suggest that the worst is yet to come.

Gavin Hayes of the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Golden, Colo. is an author of a study recently published in the journal Nature that details how the earthquake that occurred in Chile this past April was the result of a stressed seismic gap along the region's coastline trying to correct itself.

However, according to the study, an analysis of this 8.2 magnitude quake suggests that it wasn't enough.

"Even though a very large quake has already happened this year, the hazard has not vanished," he told NewScientist. "The issue now is communicating that, as the tendency would be for people to think the quake has passed."

He and his team paid special attention to a risk zone that stretches for about 310 miles (500 km) down the Chilean coast. Here, the Nazca tectonic plate is burrowing beneath the South American plate, building tension after an 8.8 magnitude Earthquake struck Chile in 1877. This quake caused extensive damage, largely thanks to a 24-meter (79-foot) tsunami that crashed along the Peru-Chile coastline, according to the USGS.

And while a great deal of that tension was released this past April, Hayes and his team suggest that a third of this region is still under heavy and mounting stress.

"Enough stress has been stored since 1877 to cause a quake of 8.5, so it means the hazard remains high," Hayes concluded.

A second study conducted by researchers at the German Researcher Center for Geoscience in Potsdam, Germany claims that this second quake could boast something as severe as a 8.9 magnitude.

According to their study, also published in the journal Nature, the steady unlocking of the boundary between the Nazca and South American plates could be gradual, leading to a great number of minor tremors over a long time. The researchers observed that "since July 2013 three seismic clusters, each lasting a few weeks, hit this part of the plate boundary with earthquakes of increasing peak magnitudes."

However, mounting stress may mean the rest could all happen at once, causing a cataclysmic shift in the earth.

Both teams write that they plan to keep a very close eye on this encroaching threat to Chile.

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