Geophysicists say the data paint a much clearer picture of the power behind the massive earthquake, believed to be the fifth-most-powerful since instruments have been available to measure seismic shifts.
Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina and across the continent from the quake's epicenter, moved about 1 inch to the west. And Chile's capital, Santiago, moved about 11 inches to the west-southwest. The cities of Valparaiso and Mendoza, Argentina, northeast of Concepcion, also moved significantly.
This is a map of South America showing movement of points on continent following Chilean earthquake in February.
(Photo Credit: University of Hawaii)
The quake's epicenter was in a region of South America that's part of the so-called "ring of fire," an area of major seismic stresses which encircles the Pacific Ocean. All along this line, the tectonic plates on which the continents move press against each other at fault zones.
The February Chilean quake occurred where the Nazca tectonic plate was squeezed under, or "subducted," below the adjacent South American plate. Quakes routinely relieve pent-up geologic pressures in these convergence zones.
Researchers deduced the cities' movement by comparing precise GPS (global positioning satellite) locations known prior to the major quake to those almost 10 days later. The US Geological Survey reported that there have been dozens of aftershocks, many exceeding magnitude 6.0 or greater, since the initial event February 27.
The GPS measurements were provided by a project called the Central and Southern Andes GPS Project, or CAP, which measures crustal motion and deformation in the Central and Southern Andes.
"By reoccupying the existing GPS stations, CAP can determine the displacements, or 'jumps', that occurred during the earthquake," said Mike Bevis, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State, who has led the project since 1993. "By building new stations, the project can monitor the postseismic deformations that are expected to occur for many years, giving us new insights into the physics of the earthquake process,"