Taxonomy term


Residual strain explains later quakes

The largest earthquake in recorded history struck southern Chile on May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 temblor was followed by a tsunami that, combined with the seismic shaking, killed 1,600 people and left more than 2 million homeless. New research suggests that, despite the staggering size of the event, the shaking didn’t dissipate all the strain accumulated at the time on the subduction fault between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates. The residual strain left on the fault may explain why a portion of this same section of fault ruptured again — 56 years later — on Dec. 25, 2016, in a magnitude-7.6 event.

26 Mar 2018

Transitional Chilesaurus fills gap between major dinosaur groups

In 2015, a new dinosaur was discovered in southern Chile, but its odd set of characteristics left paleontologists scratching their heads: Was it a carnivore or an herbivore? A closer look at the bones of the dinosaur, named Chile­saurus, is helping scientists determine how it fit into the Late Jurassic landscape.

06 Dec 2017

Whirling "gravel devils" show wind can carry more than just sand

Sand grains, by definition, are between 0.06 and 2 millimeters in diameter, and they are often thought of by scientists as the largest sediments that wind can transport, with larger sediments simply being too hefty for winds to keep aloft. But strong winds, particularly in tropical storms and tornadoes, are known to move objects far larger than sand over short distances. Now, in the high Andes of Chile on the Salar Gorbea salt flat, evidence has been found of tornadic “gravel devils” whipping across the landscape and transporting gypsum crystals as long as 27 centimeters.

16 Jun 2017

Travels in Geology: Exploring an icon of Patagonia: Chile's Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine may be off the beaten path near the bottom of South America, but the peaks in the heart of Patagonia are magnets for tourists and rock climbers from around the world.

30 Nov 2016

Getting there and getting around Patagonia

Southern Chile has two main gateways, the homey town of Puerto Natales, a 1.5-hour drive from the national park, and Punta Arenas, a small city about 4 hours’ drive to the south. Of the two, Punta Arenas (PUQ) has the larger airport, which hosts regular year-round flights from Santiago on LATAM and Sky Airline, an efficient regional carrier, plus occasional flights from Puerto Montt in Chile’s beautiful Lake District. Flights to Puerto Natales (PNT) only operate during the summer season. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to this region.

30 Nov 2016

Hidden double earthquake spells trouble for tsunami-warning systems

On Jan. 2, 2011, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake was recorded striking central Chile along the tectonic boundary between the Nazca and South American plates. Shaking from the quake was felt hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter, but no deaths or major damage were reported.
06 Mar 2016

Earliest Americans were wide-ranging wanderers

About 40 years ago, when the Monte Verde archaeological site in southern Chile was dated to 14,800 years ago, conventional ideas of American anthropology were turned on their heads. Until then, the “Clovis First” theory, which held that modern humans only began populating the Americas from Asia via the Bering land bridge roughly 13,500 years ago, was widely accepted. That people had lived thousands of kilometers farther south more than 1,000 years before the Clovis culture arose came as a shock initially, but the idea, and the Monte Verde site, has gradually become accepted over time.

27 Feb 2016

Subducting seamounts blocked a big quake in Chile

Chile, which lies above a massive subduction zone fault, is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, experiencing nine temblors of magnitude 7 or greater since 2010. In April 2014, a magnitude-8.1 earthquake struck 95 kilometers northwest of the city of Iquique, but despite its large size, the event failed to release all the stress thought to have built up along that portion of the fault. A new study reveals that a ridge of ancient underwater volcanoes may have blocked the 2014 earthquake rupture from propagating farther, thus limiting the size of the quake.


20 Jan 2016

Small tremor could have triggered big Chilean quake

On April 1, 2014, a magnitude-8.2 earthquake shook the empty stretch of coast where Chile arcs into Peru, a region called the Iquique Gap. The gap is the only part of the 7,000 kilometer-long boundary between the Nazca and South American plates that hadn’t ruptured in the past century, despite a collision rate of almost 65 millimeters per year.

11 Apr 2015

Chaitén's vigorous volcanic history revealed

When the Chaitén volcano erupted in southern Chile on May 2, 2008, the explosive event took local residents — and geologists — by surprise: Previous studies concluded that the mountain had been quiet for more than 10,000 years. Now, a detailed look at sediments preserved in a nearby lake reveals a much more active history for Chaitén, a finding that may impact the proposed rebuilding of the ash-filled town.

29 Mar 2015