Taiwan Earthquake: Quakes are not linked, say experts

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IS THIS the year of the earthquake? After the devastating quakes in Turkey and then Greece in two months, one might think the latest, its epicentre less than 100 miles from the capital of Taiwan, marks a worrying trend.

But geologists say there is no direct connection between the three disasters; they are simply part of the continual commotion in the Earth's crust, as the massive tectonic plates floating on the molten mantle - the continents and the ocean floors - move and grind into each other, sometimes sliding under or over.

The size of the latest quake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, is not unusual. There are scores above magnitude 7.0 every year, and four or five above 7.5.

But most happen far from population centres, and deep underground. The one in Taiwan is devastating because it is comparatively near the surface, only 33km (20 miles) down, rather than 600km, as is more common in the region.

"It might seem there are more earthquakes," said Alice Walker of the British Geological Survey. "But last year there were two big ones - the first in Afghanistan which killed 4,000 people, and one which caused a tidal wave that killed 6,000 people in Papua New Guinea.

"It's just that the latest ones have happened in the past two months; and Turkey and Greece are holiday destinations, which makes people here more interested in them."

Taiwan lies where the edge of the (comparatively small) Philippine plate abuts the larger Eurasian plate, which contains a huge expanse including the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia and China. Slowly, the Philippine plate is being forced under the Eurasian plate.

The last large tremor to hit the island, on 14 November 1986, measured 7.5, but it happened hundreds of miles out to sea. The death toll was 15.