Earthquake felt on Kenai Peninsula

There have been no reports of damage near the epicenter of an Alaska earthquake that registered at 5.8 on the Richter scale, said Ian Dickson, a research technician at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.

The Alaska Earthquake Information Center reported that the earthquake occurred at 2:32 p.m., originated at a depth of 71 miles and had its epicenter 81 miles North-Northwest of Kenai.

“There’s not much out near the epicenter,” Dickson said. “It’s off the road system.”

Dara Merz, a research technician with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, said the quake took place in what is known as the subduction zone.

“The subduction zone is when the oceanic plate is subducting underneath the North American plate,” Merz said. A subducting plate is one moving below another.

Alaska Earthquake Information Center Director Michael West is a state seismologist. Wednesday’s earthquake was caused when pressure being exuded on the Pacific Plate, which is a tectonic plate wedged underneath the North American Plate, gave way, he said.

Since the North American Plate is above the Pacific Plate, it is much closer to the earth’s surface. West said many small earthquakes commonly occur in this shallow layer of the earth’s crust.

Alaska experiences 100 to 120 every day, but most register as too small on the Richter scale to be felt, West said.

“This earthquake occurred in the Pacific Plate,” West said. “It was notable today because it was felt very widely.”

The Pacific Plate is some 100 kilometers below earth’s surface, and is constantly pushing further underneath Alaska, West said. Earthquakes occurring in that layer tend to be larger.

West said the fact that the quake originated far from any cities and in the deeper tectonic plate, made it slightly less significant as far as earthquakes go.

Many Alaskans do not know what big earthquakes actually feel like because they are rarely in close proximity to the epicenter, West said.

Under the right conditions, earthquakes with 5.8 magnitudes can kill people, West said.

“Had a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred in the shallow part of the earth in downtown Anchorage, we’d have buildings on the ground today,” West said. “We get lucky again and again in Alaska because … most earthquakes don’t really intersect with our populations.”

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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