1960 Chile Earthquake
Largest in the 20th Century

The 1960 chile earthquake was generated when rocks in a subduction zone became locked. The Nazca Plate is a small oceanic plate that is moving eastward toward the continent of South America. The South American Place is moving westward due to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as it separates.

1960 Chile earthquake destruction. USGS

Nazca Plate & North American Plate collide

The Nazca Plate and North American Plate are separated by a fault zone that lies be the two plates. The heavier oceanic Nazca Plate has been forced to bend as it moves downward toward the mantle in this subduction zone. A deep ocean trench lies between the two plates on the ocean floor where the two plates meet.

Plates locked

The Nazca Plate and the North American Plate became locked and elastic energy built up in the rocks. When the plates become locked the overriding South American Plate crumples on the edges.

As the South American Plate crumpled some of the land to lift upward creating small hills while other parts of the land drop down forming valleys. Eventually the rocks rupture releasing all the energy in the rocks which travel around the Earth as seismic waves.

Megathrust earthquake

Foreshocks occurred as the rocks began to break along the fault line. They are a precursor to a major earthquake. The people living in the area knew to run outside where it was safe prior to the megathrust earthquake.

The megathrust earthquake produced by the rupturing rocks allowed the North American Plate to override the Nazca Plate. Some of the land rose immediately while other areas that had form small hills dropped down several feet.


The tsunami waves generated by the ocean floor movement sent tsunami waves traveling around the Pacific Ocean at speeds that jet planes travel. In Hilo, Hawaii 61 people died and most of the town was destroyed. There were no tsunami warning sirens at that time to warn the residents that the killer waves would hit their shore.

More Earthquakes Links

Primary Waves Find out about primary waves which are the first earthquake waves to reach reporting stations.

Mercalli Scale Find out about the Mercalli scale that measures the intensity of an earthquake rather than its magnitude.

Earthquake Zones Find out more about earthquake zones that outline tectonic plate boundaries where plates are coming together, moving apart and slipping past each other.

1960 Chile Earthquake The 1960 Chile earthquake was the largest of the 20th Century. Find out what causes this great earthquake.

Earthquake Epicenter Find out where earthquake epicenters are located and how they are determined on this webpage.

Alaska Earthquake The Great Alaskan Earthquake was the second largest earthquake of the 20th Century. Find out about the landslides and tsunamis generated during the earthquake.

Earthquake Facts Find out about the discoveries that have been made by scientists using earthquake waves including layers of the Earth and outlining tectonic plates.

Home Kids Earth Science links to all the categories on our website.


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