What can B.C. learn from Mexico's earthquake?

Canadian seismologists are keeping a close eye on the earthquake that hit Mexico on Thursday night, looking for lessons that can be applied to British Columbia’s similar tectonic landscape.

“It’s a very similar situation to our coast,” says Canadian seismologist

British Columbia shares several tectonic similarities with Mexico. The Juan de Fuca oceanic plate is trying to move under the North American plate and so the South Coast of B.C. can get both megathrust earthquakes off the coast as well as shallow earthquakes just below some of our major cities. (CBC)

Canadian seismologists are keeping a close eye on the earthquake that hit Mexico on Thursday night, looking for lessons that can be applied to British Columbia's similar tectonic landscape.

The magnitude 8.1 earthquake was the most powerful one recorded in Mexico in more than a century. It hit off the southern coast of the country, toppling buildings and killing dozens.

John Cassidy, a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada, said although the earthquake was unusually large it was not unexpected.

Mexico, just like Canada's West Coast, sits on one of the Earth's subduction zones and is prone to shaking when the oceanic tectonic plates shift.  

"It's a very similar situation to our coast," Cassidy told CBC's host of On The Coast Stephen Quinn. "We also have an ocean plate, called the Juan de Fuca plate, that is being pushed towards us at about four to five centimetres each year. So it's exactly the same type of tectonic setting."

Earthquake warnings

Despite the magnitude of the earthquake, no major damage has been reported in Mexico City. Those in the capital had more than a minute's warning that disaster was about the strike because of earthquake-detection technology.

"If you have enough instruments on the ground that can very quickly detect the earthquake, locate the earthquake and say how large it was, then you can push that information out at essentially the speed of light with satellites and internet," Cassidy said.

The damaging side-to-side secondary waves following the initial shock took about three minutes to travel from the coast to the capital, giving enough time to broadcast warnings to the public by text message and the media.

Cassidy held a meeting with students and colleagues the day after the earthquake to look at what lessons could be applied to British Columbia.

"It's really important to learn from these large earthquakes whether they are in Mexico or Chile or Japan," he said. "We'll be working on this and examining the very detailed ground-shaking data sets that we can use here."

Canadian seismologists are keeping a close eye on the earthquake that hit Mexico on Thursday night, looking for lessons that can be applied to British Columbia’s similar tectonic landscape. 7:40

With files from On The Coast