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2010 Lawson Lecture: Abstract

The 2010 Lawson Lecture
The Haiti Earthquake of 12 January 2010:
A Geologic Perspective

Dr. Carol Prentice, USGS


The M7.0 earthquake that occurred in Haiti last January produced unprecedented destruction given the size of the earthquake. It caused more than twice as many casualties as any previous M7 earthquake and is the fourth most deadly earthquake of any size since 1900. The tectonic setting of Hispaniola, the island shared by the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, within the plate-boundary zone between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates guarantees that future large earthquakes are inevitable. There are three major structures that take up plate-boundary slip in the vicinity of Hispaniola, and likely many other poorly known secondary faults that are also capable of producing large, potentially damaging earthquakes. Geologic investigations indicate that the 12 January earthquake was a complex event, causing coastal uplift and only minor surface rupture along a short section of the major fault in southern Haiti. The details of the 12 January event held many surprises from a scientific perspective, but the inevitability of earthquakes this size in this region is no surprise, and the tragic loss of life due to poor construction practices is also no surprise.