Ring of Fire: 9.0 Earthquake danger in Vietnam, near China?

Vietnam is dangerously near the “Ring of Fire,” where 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur. In light of the ominous string of earthquakes, there have been articles published warning of a possibility of magnitude 8.0 – 9.0 quakes near northern Vietnam. We explore the veracity of this claim.

Growing up in Da Lat, Vietnam, there was a legend that Da Lat was built on top of an inactive volcano.  Perhaps it was a story used to scare kids (though discovery of volcanic rocks near Da Lat indicates otherwise) but I was always weary of earthquake.

This recent string of earthquakes, including yesterday’s magnitude-6.9 quake in Yushu county, Qinghai, got me to look into the matter more.

What is the likelihood of a major earthquake in Vietnam?

Early on, I knew Vietnam was near the “Ring of Fire,” an area around the Pacific Ocean where 90% of the earth’s Earthquakes occur.  In simple terms, the ring is where huge plates of the earth are colliding against each other.

As the map above indicates, Vietnam just missed the Ring of Fire.  However, that doesn’t mean we are in the clear.  I went to the USGS website and took a look at Earthquake data for the past 30 days.  It seems the most imminent dangers are coming from the northwest in China and southwest in Indonesia.

My observations hold true after further research on past earthquakes.  The last few earthquakes felt in Vietnam did not originate there, but from the southwest region of China, bordering Vietnam.  Namely, the 1970 earthquake in the Yunnan province of China and as far away as the Sichuan province (where the devastating 7.9 quake occurred in 2008).

9.0 Earthquake in Vietnam? Let the data tell the story.

I found an article warning that Vietnam could experience a magnitude 8-9 earthquake in the future.  Yet, I found that the claim was unsubstantiated by data.  Vietnam is not on a major fault line.   Recent data shows that not even small tremors have occurred within the region.  In the past 100 years, there have been 2 major earthquakes near the Dien Bien Province (the very northwest corner of Vietnam, near Sapa).  It is estimated that even in that region, earthquake of that magnitude on occurs every 500 – 900 years.

In all, it is unlikely that Vietnam will be the epicenter of a major earthquake any time soon.  Most activity will be from southwest China and near Tibet.

Okay, but Tsunamis will get us, right?

Although Vietnam is not earthquake prone, the regions around it seems to be.  Only a few years ago, the most devastating earthquake in recent history occurred in the Indian Ocean, just west of Vietnam.  Not to forget the ominous “Ring of Fire” sitting immediately to the east.  One can imagine that major earthquakes in these regions will cause major tsunamis to crash into Vietnam’s coasts.

Apparently, that has not occurred.

The most likely Tsunami would come from the Philippines (Manila Trench).  If that occurs, it will take 2 hours for the tsunami to hit Vietnam’s coasts.

The disaster to really worry about: Floods

The tropical country of Vietnam is prone to floods, hurricanes, and typhoons.  These disasters causes severe damage, both short-term and long-term.  Back in September of 2009, Typhoon Ketsana caused huge flooding damage to the country.  Unfortunately, a lot of the deaths could have been prevented with better structures, access to clean water after the floods, and stronger infrastructure. There are many NGO’s working to build that infrastructure, like East Meets West Foundation,  so Vietnam is better prepared for the next disaster.  Of course, feel free to contact us for more information on groups working on disaster relief, medical aide, and infrastructure.

Source: One Vietnam.

Ring of Fire: 9.0 Earthquake danger in Vietnam, near China?