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Mw 6.4 Earthquake Triggered by Earlier Earthquake Swarm Strikes Eastern Taiwan

07 Feb 2018

Eastern Taiwan is struck by a Mw 6.3 earthquake, which is believed to have been triggered by an earthquake swarm that took place on 4 February 2018 (Source: USGS)

A Mw 6.4 earthquake struck eastern Taiwan on 6 February 2018 at 11.50 pm (Singapore time). According to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau (CWB), the magnitude-6.4 earthquake had originated offshore approximately 15 kilometres (km) north of Hualien city at a depth of about 10 km.

Experts at the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) and National Taiwan University (NTU) believe that this earthquake was triggered by the earthquake swarm that shook eastern Taiwan on 4 February 2018. This earlier earthquake swarm took place on an offshore thrust fault system. In comparison, yesterday’s Mw 6.4 earthquake originated on a strike-slip fault system that runs in the approximate N-S direction. It is likely to have occurred on the northern extension of the Milun fault system that stretches from Hualien city to the north.

The fault rupture forecast from the 2015 Taiwan Earthquake Model shows that the Milun Fault (no. 32) is likely to rupture in the next thirty years. Yesterday’s earthquake is believed to have resulted from an offshore fault that is connected to the Milun Fault (Source: Taiwan Earthquake Model)

Our preliminary analysis of the seismological data provided by the Taiwan Earthquake Research Center (TEC), as well as photographs taken in Hualien, suggest that the earthquake originated from a 15-20 km-long left-lateral strike-slip fault just north of Hualien city. The fault rupture is likely to have propagated southward into the city, resulting in the destruction of buildings in the city’s eastern parts. Preliminary post-earthquake surveys done in the morning of 7February confirm that part of the Milun Fault had ruptured during the Mw 6.4 mainshock, with surface offsets ranging from a few centimetres to several tens of centimetres.

The time-dependent earthquake model showing Taiwan in the middle of the year 2016. The yellow and orange areas indicate the locations where earthquake hazards are expected to be high in the near future (Source: Chan et al., 2017, BSSA)

The Milun Fault, one of the most active faults in Taiwan, has sparked concern and keen interest in scientists. A recently updated version of the Taiwan Earthquake Model (TEM) projected a relatively high chance (~30%) of the Milun Fault producing a significant earthquake in the next three decades. The last destructive earthquake event produced by the Milun Fault was in 1951. The 1951 earthquake sequence consisted of several quakes measuring approximately 7 in magnitude. They had propagated in a north-to-south direction along the longitudinal valley in eastern Taiwan, causing significant damage that stretched from Hualien to Taitung.

The ground motion data from Taiwan’s P-alert real time monitoring and earthquake early warning system suggests that the rupture, from last night’s Mw 6.4 earthquake, was likely to have propagated southward, generating strong ground motions in the city of Hualien (Source: P-alert real-time monitoring system)