A magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico City on Tuesday, killing at least 225 people and causing major devastation to dozens of buildings in the capitol city.
It was the second earthquake to hit the area in 12 days, and seismologists in Colorado are sifting through data to get a better understanding of the science behind the earthquakes.
William Yeck, a research geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, says the mechanism for the most recent earthquake is different from what is typically seen in the region.
“In this case, the earthquake looks like it actually occurred because the bottom plate – the Cocos Plate – was bending – and this caused tension which actually pulls the plate apart and causes an earthquake.”
PHOTOS: Inside the National Earthquake Information Center
The first earthquake – an 8.1 magnitude – hit off shore, causing less damage because it was further away from where people live. As far as if those two earthquakes were related, Yeck says that’s yet to be determined.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Yeck said. “The distance is pretty far away from that 8.1 earthquake which would suggest that it’s possibly not an aftershock, but it is possible for a large earthquake to trigger other earthquakes at larger distances.”
The USGS website is full of data related to contextualizing each earthquake. They measure everything from size, magnitude and location to ‘Did You Feel It?’ reports, where people can report what they felt during an earthquake to give seismologists an idea of how broadly a specific earthquake was felt.
“Our mission here at the USGS, National Earthquake Information Center, is to monitor earthquakes throughout the globe,” Seismologist Paul Earle said. “We have seismometers sending back data in real time, covering the entire planet. When there’s any earthquake of a certain size anywhere, we can detect it here and we report on that so emergency responders, governments know what’s going on, and what’s the potential impact of that earthquake.”
Seismologists like Yeck and Earle are hoping technology can provide some insights into the nature of these kind of earthquakes going forward.
“If we can better understand this earthquake, we can better understand the potential damage that it has, not only in Mexico, but in other countries as well and in our own country where we can have similar earthquakes,” Earle said.
You can watch our full interview with Yeck below. Can’t see it? Click here.