Friday 3 February 2017

Magnitude 5.6 Earthquake to the northeast of Martinique.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 5.6 Earthquake at a depth of 35.1 km roughly 62 km northeast of the town of Sainte-Marie on the French island of Martinique in the Lesser Antilles, slightly before 3.55 pm local time (slightly before 7.55 pm GMT) on Friday 3 February 2017. This was a large quake, but at some depth as well as some way offshore, and there are no reports of any casualties or serious damage, though the quake was felt over a large area, with people reporting feeling it across Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucya, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The approximate location of the 3 February 2017 Martinique Earthquake. USGS.

The Lesser Antilles are located at the eastern fringe of the Caribbean Tectonic Plate. The Atlantic Plate (strictly speaking, an extension of the South American Plate which runs to the northeast of the Caribbean) is being subducted beneath this, and as it sinks into the Earth, is melted by the heat of the planets interior. Some of the melted material then rises up through the overlying Caribbean Plate as magma, fuelling the volcanoes of the Lesser Antilles Volcanic Arc. The subduction of the Atlantic Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate is not a smooth process, with the two plates constantly sticking together then breaking apart as the tectonic pressure builds up, causing Earthquakes in the process, though since the boundary between the two plates is some way to the east of the islands, Earthquakes in the Lesser Antilles tend to be both deep and offshore, which lessens their destructive potential.

 The subduction of the Atlantic Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate fuels the volcanoes of the Lesser Antilles Volcanic Arc. George Pararas-Carayannis.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.

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