Poster of the Kermadec Islands, New Zealand Earthquake of 18 February 2009 - Magnitude 6.9

Tectonic Summary

The February 18, 2009, M6.9 earthquake occurred in the Tonga - Kermadec subduction zone. The subduction zone extends north-northeast from the North Island of New Zealand for over 2500 km through Tonga to within 100 km of Western Samoa. At a broad scale, tectonics of the subduction zone reflect the motion of the Pacific plate westward with respect to the interior of the Australia plate at a velocity of about 60 mm/y in the epicentral region of the earthquake. The Pacific plate subducts beneath the Australia plate at the Tonga and Kermadec trenches, and dips to the west. In detail, the eastern edge of the broad Australia plate may itself be viewed as a collection of small plates or microplates that move with respect to each other and with respect to the Pacific plate and the Australia plate interior. The location and focal-mechanism of the earthquake are consistent with it occurring as thrust faulting on the interface between the subducting Pacific plate and the overriding Australia plate (in detail, the overriding Kermadec microplate).

The interaction between the Pacific and Australia plate creates one of the most active tectonic environments in the world, with a high level of associated earthquake activity. Since 1976, a 200-km long section of the Tonga - Kermadec subduction zone that includes the epicenter of the February 18 earthquake has produced over 50 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger, with the largest having magnitude 7.9.

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