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Mw 6.8 Earthquake Strikes Central Myanmar

24 Aug 2016

In the afternoon of 24 August 2016, a moderate earthquake struck central Myanmar, resulting in casualties and damages to nearby cities, including the famous tourist destination, the ancient city of Bagan.

The earthquake’s epicentre is estimated to be located in between the Irrawaddy River and the Indo-Burman Range (20.919°N 94.579°E), in the hilly terrain of central Myanmar. The magnitude of this earthquake (Mw 6.8) is slightly smaller than the Kani earthquake (Mw 6.9) that had occurred on 13 April in central Myanmar early this year. Both earthquakes belong to the deep subduction zone quakes caused by the Indian Plate subducting beneath the Burma Plate.

Shown here are the epicentres of the two deep-subduction zone earthquakes that occurred in Myanmar in April and August this year. The recent earthquake is located south of the earlier earthquake, close to the ancient city of Bagan. (Image source: Wang Yu)

Dr Weiwen Chen, a Research Fellow at the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), has identified the quake as a deep-thrust event resulting from the eastward-subducting plate beneath Myanmar, with a focal depth of 95-96 kilometres (km), which is about 9-10 km deeper than the initial estimate provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The strong ground motion experienced in Myanmar was strong enough to damage the ancient Bagan city, and the tremors could be felt all the way in Bangladesh, India and the city of Bangkok. But, even though the magnitude of this earthquake is greater than the Mw 6.2 quake that had occurred in central Italy this morning, the damage from this deep-focus event is likely to be much less severe than the shallow-focused Italy earthquake.

Field photos showing the Pagodas before and after the recent earthquakes in Myanmar. The pagodas lost their topmost structures, which is similar to other descriptions of the damage caused by other historical earthquakes in this region. (Source: Myanmar Earthquake Committee's Facebook page)

This is not the first time that Bagan has been hit by an earthquake. In 1975, an earthquake with a magnitude measuring 6.5 to 6.8 struck from deep within the subduction zone. It caused significant damage to this famous archaeological site on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy River, and destroyed many historical stupas and temples. According to Dr Lin Thu Aung, a Research Associate at EOS, historical records show that at least 10 earthquakes have struck this area in the last 1,000 years. Each had caused various degrees of damage to Bagan, which was the capital of Burma about 1,000 years ago.