Earthquake swarm

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February 2008 swarm near Mexicali.

Earthquake swarms are events where a local area experiences sequences of many earthquakes striking in a relatively short period of time. The length of time used to define the swarm itself varies, but the United States Geological Survey points out that an event may be of the order of days, weeks, or months.[1] They are differentiated from earthquakes succeeded by a series of aftershocks by the observation that no single earthquake in the sequence is obviously the main shock. Earthquake swarms are one of the events that typically precede eruptions of volcanoes.


In the United States there were the 2008 Reno earthquakes that began in February and ended in November.[2] Between February and April the swarm produced more than 1,000 quakes of small magnitude, although the largest measured 4.7.

Another example was that affecting a Spanish island in the eastern Atlantic during the 2011–12 El Hierro eruption. From July 2011 until October 2011, hundreds of small earthquakes were measured. The accumulated energy released by the swarm increased dramatically on 28 September.[3] The swarm was due to the movement of magma beneath the island, and on 9 October indications of a submarine volcanic eruption were detected.[4]

Between February 2011 and December 2011 more than 500 earthquakes were recorded during the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, with 31 of them greater than magnitude 5.

Near Mexicali, along the Cerro Prieto Fault, over 500 quakes and aftershocks occurred during a two-week period in February 2008.[5]

In 2013, the Santa Cruz Islands had been experiencing a large earthquake swarm with many magnitude 5 and 6 earthquakes occurring since January and continuing into February. This later turned out to be a series of foreshocks that led up to the 8.0 2013 Solomon Islands earthquake on February 6.

In 2014, an area near the California/Oregon/Nevada borders experienced more than 800 small earthquakes over a period of around three months.[6] More than 550 quakes were on magnitude 2.0 or larger.[7]

See also[edit]