Earthquakes Persist in the South Pacific

Map of Kermadec Arc
Map of Kermadec Arc north of the North Island of New Zealand. (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

In the April issue of Rock & Gem, I wrote of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake in the South Pacific that set off tsunami warnings across New Zealand and elsewhere on February 10, 2021. As big as that quake was, it was apparently only the beginning of what would soon be described as one of the “biggest earthquakes to hit the South Pacific in modern history” at the intersection of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.

Within an eight-hour period on March 4, three powerful earthquakes were recorded in the same off-shore region not far from New Zealand. Two were recorded at magnitude 7.4 and 7.3, but the largest clocked in at an astronomical magnitude 8.1! Said geologist Jennifer Eccles (Univesity of Auckland), “This is about as big as it gets.”

The quakes were centered 13 miles underground near the Kermadec Islands, between Tonga and the North Island of New Zealand, or approximately 620 miles northeast of New Zealand. “Hope everyone is ok out there,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook.

Waterfalls down steep cliff faces
Milford Sound, New Zealand—A moody day on the water after recent rain, clouds shifting above a rank of waterfalls down steep cliff faces. (Lawrence Murray from Oxford, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Coastline residents were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of a tsumani as large waves were observed in offshore waters. Residents were told to flee by foot, bicycle, moped, or other means rather than car in fear of a major highway back-up that could put thousands at risk. By one means or another, several northern coast towns immediately emptied out as sirens wailed and thousand of people fled to high ground.

Fortunately, while folks reported seeing “receding and churning” waters along the coast, unusual water colors, and aquatic birds acting “very strange,” the worst fears did not materialize. Even so, government officials continued to warn the public to avoid beaches and shorelines and noted that “people have done the right things in the region by picking up, packing up, and by-and-large staying calm.”

Said Hawaii Governor David Ige, “This is a good reminder to stay vigilant and be prepared.” Good words to heed for anyone residing in a coastal zone susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis, like my own hometown of Ventura, California, where tsunami warning signs are posted all along the coast and up and down town.

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids, has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category, and is the president-elect for the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies.
Contact him at


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