Roaming earthquakes in China highlight midcontinental hazards



Before dawn on 28 July 1976, a magnitude (M) 7.8 earthquake struck Tangshan, a Chinese industrial city only 150 kilometers from Beijing (Figure 1a). In a brief moment, the earthquake destroyed the entire city and killed more than 242,000 people [Chen et al., 1988]. More than 30 years have passed, and upon the ruins a new Tangshan city has been built. However, the memory of devastation remains fresh. For this reason, a sequence of recent small earthquakes in the Tangshan region, including an M 4.8 event on 28 May and an M 4.0 event on 18 June 2012, has caused widespread concerns and heated debate in China. In the science community, the debate is whether the recent Tangshan earthquakes are the aftershocks of the 1976 earthquake despite the long gap in time since the main shock or harbingers of a new period of active seismicity in Tangshan and the rest of North China, where seismic activity seems to fluctuate between highs and lows over periods of a few decades [Ma, 1989].


Many of our studies of midcontinent earthquakes were inspired through collaboration with Seth Stein. J. Ye calculated the strain rates. We thank Roland Bürgmann and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful review. Support for this work includes a U.S. National Science Foundation grant (OISE-0730154) and the International Science and Technology Cooperation Program of China grant (2010DFB20190).