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From Geoscience Australia

Where do earthquakes occur in Australia?

An earthquake is the shaking and vibration at the surface of the Earth caused by underground movement along a fault plane or by volcanic activity. Although Australia is not on the edge of a plate, the continent experiences earthquakes because the Indo-Australian plate is being pushed north and is colliding with the Eurasian, Philippine and Pacific plates. This causes the build up of stress in the interior of the Indo-Australian plate which is released during earthquakes.

There are on average 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or more in Australia each year. Earthquakes above magnitude 5.5, such as the 5.6 magnitude event in Newcastle in 1989, occur on average every two years. About every five years there is a potentially disastrous earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or more.

The size of earthquakes determines the energy released. For every unit increase in magnitude, there is roughly a thirty-fold increase in the energy released. For instance, a magnitude 2.0 earthquake releases 30 times more energy than a magnitude 1.0 earthquake, while a magnitude 3.0 earthquake releases 900 times (30×30) more energy than a magnitude 1.0.

The effects of an earthquake depend on many factors, such as the distance from the epicentre (the point on the Earth’s surface directly above where the earthquake originated within the Earth) and the local ground conditions. Generally, for locations near the epicentre, the following effects may be observed:

MagnitudeDescription of effect
less than 3.4Usually felt by only a few people near the epicentre.
3.5 – 4.2Felt by people who are indoors and some outdoors; vibrations similar to a passing truck.
4.3 – 4.8Felt by many people; windows rattle, dishes disturbed, standing cars rock.
4.9 – 5.4Felt by everyone; dishes break and doors swing, unstable objects overturn.
5.5 – 6.1Some damage to buildings; plaster cracks, bricks fall, chimneys damaged.
6.2 – 6.9Much building damage; houses move on their foundations, chimneys fall, furniture moves.
7.0 – 7.3Serious damage to buildings; bridges twist, walls fracture, many masonry buildings collapse.
7.4 – 7.9Causes great damage; most buildings collapse.
greater than 8.0Causes extensive damage; waves seen on the ground surface, objects thrown into the air.