On the Richter magnitude scale (M), earthquakes below M2 are generally not felt, even when occurring at shallow depth. Shallow M5 events cause damage only when the epicentral region supports structures built on loose soils or unconsolidated sediments. M6 earthquakes in populated areas frequently cause considerable damage. The great earthquakes of this century have had magnitudes of about 8.5. Approximately 100 earthquakes each year are of M6 strength or greater; fortunately, most occur offshore or in unpopulated areas.
The severity of surface ground shaking at a particular distance from the source is described by its intensity at that location. The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, used in North America to quantify the degree of surface effects, ranges from MMI (barely perceptible ground motion) to MMXII (total destruction). MMVI is the threshold of damage. The depth of an earthquake focus varies from near surface to 700 km. Most continental earthquakes occur in the crust at depths of less than 40 km. Deep-focus earthquakes (below 300 km) are restricted to parts of very active seismic belts.
In Canada earthquakes occur in the Cordillera, along the West Coast and offshore, in the Yukon and the High Arctic, in eastern Canada and along the eastern seaboard. Elsewhere in Canada, earthquakes are rare and of small magnitude. In the Cordillera, moderate earthquakes occur in the crust at minor to moderate levels of activity throughout, in a generally compressive regime. A large earthquake (M7) occurred in the vicinity of Hope, BC, or farther south in northern Washington State, in 1872. This is the largest known event in the region; all others have been M6 or less.
Along the West Coast and beneath Vancouver Island and the Strait of Georgia, earthquakes are the product of active plate subduction (see PLATE TECTONICS; GEOLOGICAL HISTORY). The small Juan de Fuca Plate is at present being thrust beneath the Olympic Mts and southern Vancouver Island. The result is a zone of earthquakes beneath Puget Sound at depths of 70-100 km, overlain by a zone of shallower, generally smaller events. The regime extends north to Canadian territory and the southern Strait of Georgia. The smaller Explorer Plate is no longer being thrust beneath northern Vancouver Island; thus the junction of the 2 plates is a shear zone marked in the offshore by the Nootka Fault and extending deep beneath the islands. The shallower crust is occasionally subjected to large earthquakes (eg, the M7 event on Vancouver Island near Courtenay, 1946), presumably in response to the shearing stresses below.
Offshore, a transform-spreading ridge system separates the Explorer and Juan de Fuca plates from the Pacific Plate. None of the many earthquakes occurring there each year is felt onshore. Farther north the transform system intersects the Continental Shelf and extends north along the shelf as a transcurrent fault. Canada's greatest known earthquakes have occurred along this feature. In 1949 a 200 km long segment of the fault ruptured in an M8 earthquake that caused chandeliers to sway in Jasper. The thrusting of the Pacific Plate beneath Alaska generates many severe (M8) earthquakes that may affect Canadian territory. A Good Friday 1964 M8.6 earthquake generated a TSUNAMI or seismic sea wave that caused considerable damage in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island.
There are active seismic zones in the Richardson and Mackenzie mountains, YT, and a relatively limited seismic zone in the Beaufort Sea. Numerous earthquake zones occur in the arctic islands, one extending south through the Boothia Peninsula, across the mouth of Hudson Bay and northern Québec to the Labrador Sea. Baffin Bay was the site of an M7 earthquake in 1933. An event of similar magnitude occurred in the Laurentian Channel south of Newfoundland in 1929, generating a tsunami that caused considerable damage and drowned 27 people on the Burin Peninsula.
In eastern Canada seismicity is diffuse throughout the northern Appalachians, the series of M5 events in the Miramichi region of NB in 1982 being the most recent example. More concentrated zones occur at the mouth of the St Lawrence, in the St Lawrence Valley near La Malbaie in Charlevoix County, and in western Québec. The Charlevoix zone is the site of most of the larger events in eastern Canada. One of the largest occurred in 1534-35 between the voyages of Jacques Cartier, and was reported to him by the native people of the area on his return. More recently, an M7 earthquake in 1925 was felt throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern US. In the western Québec zone, damaging earthquakes have occurred at Temiscaming (1935) and Cornwall (1944). Both events were approximately M6.
Earthquakes in Canada are monitored by the National Seismograph Network operated by the Geological Survey, Natural Resources Canada. Approximately 100 seismographs are distributed from St John's to Vancouver Island and from Alert in the High Arctic to the Niagara Peninsula. The network is capable of detecting all earthquakes greater than M3.5 anywhere in Canada and those greater than M2 in more densely populated regions. Approximately 300 events greater than M3 are located annually. Probability estimates of seismic ground motion resulting from Canadian earthquakes are incorporated into the National Building Code of Canada; structures designed according to its provisions can resist moderate earthquakes without significant damage and major earthquakes without collapse.
Author MICHAEL J. BERRY
Links to Other Sites
This site offers the latest news and information about recent earthquakes and related events. See menu on the left for links to detailed maps, Frequently Asked Questions, a history of earthquakes that have occured within Canada, and a glossary of seismological terms. From Natural Resources Canada.
A well-illustrated online guide to natural geological processes related to plate tectonics, earthquakes, and related events. From Natural Resources Canada.
Is Your Family Prepared?
This site offers useful tips and guidelines for preparing and responding to earthquakes and other extreme natural events. Click on the "hazards poster" on the right to download a map of Canadian locations prone to various natural events. Includes brief notes about each type of event. From Public Safety Canada.
Tsunamis and Tsunami Research
Check out the "basic physics of tsunamis" section for details about the causes and effects of tsunami events and their connection to earthquakes. From Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Pacific Region.
The 1929 Magnitude 7.2 Grand Banks Earthquake and Tsunami
An illustrated overview of the damage caused by the 1929 Grand Banks earthquake and tsunami. From Natural Resources Canada.
The website for NEPTUNE Canada, a massive undersea research project focusing on seabed structure and activity, the deep sea ecosystem, and ocean climate change. Check out the online multimedia depicting their undersea observatory in action and much more. From the University of Victoria.
Tsunami Information Centre
Current news, maps, and extensive background information about the causes and effects of “tsunamis,” tsunami preparedness, and much more. From the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.
Canadian Geophysical Union
The CGU, which began as a society dedicated to the scientific study of the solid earth, is now concerned with all aspects of the physical study of Earth and its space environment, including the Sun and solar system. Check out the online newsletters, information about the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal, and more.
Haida Gwaii earthquake yields new data
A CBC TV feature about ongoing research into patterns of earthquake events along the Haida Gwaii archipelago.
See useful tips for preparing for earthquakes and their aftermath from the website 72hours.org.
Distinguished Canadians: Tuzo Wilson
A 1972 video clip in which distinguished Canadian scientist J. Tuzo Wilson offers his opinions on a range of topics including the environmental impact of economic activity in fragile environments and the history of earthquakes around the world. From CBC-TV's "Distinguished Canadians."
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...