Expeditioners sleep through largest earthquake on record

Expeditioner atop a rocky hill on Macquarie Island
Macquarie Island was unaffected by the huge earthquake at Macquarie Rise. (Photo: A. Wakefield)

24 December 2004

Twenty two Macquarie Island expeditioners last night slept through the largest earthquake on record this year.

Macquarie Island station leader, Graeme Beech, said the first he knew of the earthquake was when he received a warning from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre this morning.

"An email came through saying there had been an earthquake of magnitude 7.9 at Macquarie Rise and that there was a risk of localised tsunamis. That woke me up," he said.

"The two geologists here were very excited and are looking forward to checking their four field-based seismometers later today."

Mr Beech said the island’s seismic station, run by Geoscience Australia, had recorded the primary wave of the earthquake at 10 seconds after 2am last night and a further 1 hour and 43 minutes of aftershocks. He said the island has experienced small tremors over the past few weeks.

"This is a very active area tectonically and we feel tremors regularly, but I’m not sure why we didn't feel it last night. Let’s hope there's no follow-up quake."

Despite the magnitude of the quake, which has since been revised to 8.1, Mr Beech said there was no damage to the infrastructure on the island, or signs of damage or wave action around the coast. Expeditioners on the island, who are part of the Australian Antarctic Division’s summer research program, are carrying on as usual, with preparations for Christmas well underway.

"We’ve got plenty of work to do today, as well as present-making and food preparation for Christmas, but this earthquake has certainly added an extra dimension to the day’s discussions," Mr Beech said.