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Expert: eruption in Vanuatu not caused by recent activity in Pacific Ring of Fire

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Residents of countries located on the edge of the Pacific Ocean seem to be experiencing more natural disasters than usual, however one of Australia’s quake experts says the apparent cluster of events is no more than a coincidence.

As Mexico recovers from last Tuesday’s deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake, Japan and Papua New Guinea also felt shocks last week in the 6.0 range. Meanwhile Vanuatu and Bali have experienced widespread evacuations in the last few days due to volcanic activity, affecting thousands of people.

Despite some chatter that these events are an indication to prepare for the worst, Geoscience Australia’s senior seismologist Professor Phil Cummins says it would be hard to link each specific event, reports SBS World News.

“I think it’s just by chance that a lot of these things are happening at the same time,” Professor Cummins said.

“It’s very difficult to explain how earthquakes and volcanoes that are [located] quite some distances from each other are coupled.

“The mechanism that causes an earthquake here and to cause a volcanic eruption a great distance away is very poorly understood. We can’t explain that and we just have to regard it as a random clustering.”

Professor Cummins said that the activity was related in so far as all the events were located in the Pacific Ring of Fire – the horseshoe shaped ring of volcanic and earthquake activity that lines the Pacific Ocean.

“All of these things are somewhat related, they’re all affected by the state of stress in the Earth’s interior… so in some sense they are related. My personal feeling is that they are not causally related.”

When asked how concerned we should be about the amount of activity in the Ring of Fire in the last few weeks, Professor Cummins said there was not a lot we could do.

“For earthquakes we cannot really count on a warning… the early warnings given by the sophisticated systems in Japan and California are tens of seconds or a minute at most,” he said.

While these large scale deadly phenomena are fortunately infrequent, the agricultural and tourism benefits of living in the area around a volcano explain why so many are happy to continue to do so.

“Volcanoes can be very attractive as they offer fertile soil, usually for a very long period between eruptions. It’s good for farming and the pressure to populate these areas can be pretty irresistible,” Professor Cummins said.