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Taiwan could have 'catastrophic earthquake' in 10 years

Expert says Taiwan's 30-year major earthquake cycle will come due in 10 years

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Collapsed buildings seen after 1999 Jiji earthquake. (Reuters photo)

Collapsed buildings seen after 1999 Jiji earthquake. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An expert predicts that Taiwan could have a "catastrophic" earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher at some point within the next 10 years.

Taiwan is located at the point of plate compression, and earthquakes occur quite frequently in the eastern side of the country. The magnitude 6.2 temblor on Tuesday (Oct. 24) off the east coast of the country was the largest earthquake so far this year.

However, the western side of the country has not seen a large earthquake in many years. An expert says Taiwan's 30-year major earthquake cycle will come due in 10 years, particularly in western Taiwan.

Wang Chung-ho (汪中和), a researcher at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Earth Sciences, was cited by China Times as saying that Taiwan does have a "major earthquake cycle." Wang said that in Taiwan disastrous earthquakes of magnitude 7 or higher occur approximately once every 30 years.

The last time there was an earthquake of magnitude 7 or above was the 1999 Jiji earthquake. He said it is possible a "catastrophic earthquake" could occur within the next 10 years, particularly in the western half of the country, which he suggested needs to be closely monitored.

Wang said seismic activity in western Taiwan has been low since 2018, while earthquakes continue to occur in the eastern half of the region and offshore. However, the western half of the country has not been releasing the accumulated energy in recent years as expected, said Wang.

According to Wang, this is a concern because important domestic industrial facilities and railway transportation are in western Taiwan. Wang warned that if a major earthquake occurs in that region, it may lead to significant disasters.

Wang said that although people are worried by frequent earthquakes, such temblors serve to release pent-up energy. This can have a positive impact on reducing the odds of a disastrous quake.

National Taiwan University geosciences professor Kuo Chen-hao (郭陳澔) was cited by the newspaper as saying that modern seismic observation data only started becoming available in Taiwan around 1960. Kuo said that each region in Taiwan has different rock structures and can withstand varying levels of stress.

Due to the relatively short observation period and the complexity of rock materials, Kuo said that it is challenging to determine the timing of a major earthquake. Nevertheless, Kuo said that it is clear that stress has been accumulating in the western region, and a major earthquake is likely to occur in the future.

Kuo said that after the 1999 Jiji earthquake, seismic building standards have been given special attention, and houses with insufficient seismic resistance have also been updated and reinforced. In contrast, other countries that experience similar levels of seismic intensity may experience major disasters due to weaker building standards.

Kuo said that earthquakes test the integrity of houses and in the future, relevant regulations will still need to be strictly monitored. He recommended the public prepare for future seismic events by keeping an earthquake kit at home that includes food, water, and emergency supplies.