There is no link between Wednesday’s deadly earthquake in Spain and the tremor that stuck 12km off Malta, according to the secretary general of the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.
The only link, seismologist Rémy Bossu said, was that both happened in the same region.
“The situation in the Mediterranean is rather complex... basically all the seismicity in the region from Spain to Turkey is linked to the collision between Africa and Eurasia,” Dr Bossu said.
On Wednesday at around 5.15 p.m. a tremor measuring 2.5 on the Richter scale struck 12 kilometres south east of Malta. Later a “moderate” 5.2 Richter quake hit the southern Spanish town of Lorca and killed nine people, destroying buildings and leaving about several thousand people homeless.
The African plate is moving “roughly one centimetre” closer to Europe yearly, and the increased tension between the plates causes seismic activity.
Seismologists are still discussing whether it is possible that one earthquake may bring about other quakes, but even if that were so, they would mostly trigger quakes which were waiting to happen, according to Dr Bossu.
That said it is “more than unlikely” that the Spanish tremor triggered the Etna eruption yesterday, which saw Catania airport being shut due to an ash cloud, according to Dr Bossu.
While it is impossible to predict the specific time, place and magnitude of an earthquake, there is enough information on seismic activities in certain regions to say that earthquakes of a particular magnitude will occur.
One such case is Istanbul, a seismic hotspot, where it is predicted that in the next two decades a quake clocking up to 7.5 on the Richter scale will occur.
“We can identify hotspots of seismic hazard... all the fault is moving except this section of the fault... the energy builds up and at one stage it has to break down... It may happen now, it may happen in 50 years’ time,” Dr Bossu said.
There have been concerns that a significant earthquake might hit Malta in the near future, not least because of predictions made by self-styled mystic Angelik Caruana, who claims the Virgin Mary predicted a strong quake in the port area.
The seismologist reiterated that earthquakes cannot be predicted accurately – “most predictions are vague”. However, “earthquakes that have happened in the past will happen in the future”. Even though some earthquakes were not recorded historically, it did not mean they would not return, as some earthquakes had quite a long return period.
Local seismologist Pauline Galea confirmed the Spanish and the Maltese earthquakes were completely unrelated.
Historically, the biggest risks to Malta came from quakes to the South East of Sicily but damage was mostly restricted to buildings.
“Malta is not particularly high risk; risk is low to moderate. However, this doesn’t mean buildings wouldn’t be damaged. In Spain the magnitude was quite moderate but people still died,” Dr Galea said, adding that the vulnerability of some unsupported buildings had to be investigated.
Meanwhile, an Air Malta flight to Catania was cancelled yesterday because of the ash cloud over Fontanarossa airport. Passengers due to travel to Catania today are urged to contact the Maltese airport on 5004 3333 for flight information.
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