If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it …

… it isn’t news.

The large-scale earthquakes over the weekend were a shock. After the 6.2 quake that struck the island of Java last Saturday (and killed over 3,300 Indonesians, many of them still asleep), earthquakes of similar magnitude hit Tonga and Papua New Guinea on Sunday. A smaller quake also struck northern Luzon on the same day.

Was the Pacific "ring of fire" entering a period of great volatility? It certainly seemed like it, judging from the news. Yes, the quakes and the imminent eruption of Mt. Merapi in Java are part of a larger pattern.

"There’s no doubt they are effects of the same cause — the ring of weakness in the Earth’s surface," said Gary Gibson, professor of seismology at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

But, no, the region is not faced with the prospect of greater seismic activity.

Gibson said that the flurry of seismic activity of the past days was comparatively small.

"On any given day you would find seismic activity greater than this throughout the Pacific region," he said.

"Last week there was a sequence of earthquakes between New Zealand and Tonga that were far greater — we got up to magnitude of 7.8 on one day," he said. "But nobody knows anything about it because it didn’t affect anybody."

In other words, because Saturday’s earthquake claimed a terrible toll, the weekend’s series of quakes stunned us into thinking there was more heat to the fire around the ring.


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