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May 2015

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

On May 5th there was a magnitude 7.5 earthquake south-southwest of Kokopo, Papua New Guinea. Kokopo is on the northeastern tip of the island of New Britain (30km southeast of the city of Rabaul), in the province of East New Britain. The Papua New Guinea region is very active seismically; 36 M 7+ events have occurred within 250 km of the May 5, 2015 earthquake over the past century.

While commonly plotted as points on maps, earthquakes of this size are more appropriately described as slips over a larger fault area. Events of the magnitude of the May 5, 2015 earthquake are typically about 70x40 km in size (length x width). Few are known to have caused shaking-related fatalities because of the remoteness of the region. The largest nearby earthquake was an M 8.1 event in July 1971.

The eastern half of the island of New Guinea - second largest in the world - was divided between Germany (north) and the UK (south) in 1885. The latter area was transferred to Australia in 1902, which occupied the northern portion during World War I and continued to administer the combined areas until independence in 1975. The western half of the island is part of Indonesia.

Slightly larger than California, Papua New Guinea's terrain is mostly mountains with coastal lowlands and rolling foothills; its climate is tropical. The natural hazards facing the country include: active volcanism (situated along the Pacific "Ring of Fire"), frequent and sometimes severe earthquakes, mud slides, and tsunamis. The natural resources of Papua New Guinea include: gold, copper, silver, natural gas, timber, and oil.

If you would like to learn more about earthquakes, please visit the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program.

USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, CIA World Factbook, The Columbia Gazetteer, 5/2015; 5/2015

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