Largest earthquake in nearly 20 years shakes Central Australia

23 May 2016

Earthquake cluster in Central Australia beginning 21 May 2016

Earthquake cluster in Central Australia beginning 21 May 2016

Australia experienced its largest earthquake in nearly 20 years on Saturday morning when a magnitude 6.1 hit the red centre, waking up tourists and locals alike.

The earthquake occurred approximately 125kms west of Uluru at 4:14am (AEST) on Saturday 21 May and was the largest recorded since a magnitude 6.2 was recorded offshore Collier Bay, Western Australia in 1997. The earthquake was felt up to 600kms away at Coober Pedy in South Australia but reports mostly came from the Uluru township of Yulara.

"Due to the remote location in terms of Australian population and infrastructure, there was no damage or injuries within the communities that reported feeling the earthquake. However, this is a big event by Australian standards, and one which certainly had the potential to cause major damage had it occurred under one of Australia's larger population centres", said Senior Seismologist Jonathan Bathgate.

"Geoscience Australia recorded a magnitude 3.5 foreshock 2 days prior to the main event at 4:14am. Since then we have recorded over 50 aftershocks ranging from magnitude 2.5 to 4.1. The last time we saw an earthquake of this size in the Northern Territory (Tennant Creek, 1988) aftershocks continued for years, and we can expect the same sort of ongoing seismic activity to occur here", said Jonathan.

A number of temporary seismometers are on their way to the location of the magnitude 6.1 earthquake to ensure all aftershocks are being accurately recorded, enabling researchers to gain a stronger understanding of seismic behaviour following a large event such as this.

"To say that we were 'overdue' for an earthquake of this size is tricky as we would like to have thousands of years of data, not the hundred or so that we have, to start making predictions on averages like that. This earthquake at magnitude 6.1 rates as one of the country's largest since recording began in the early 1900's", he said.

More information on the nation's seismic history can be explored through Australia's historical earthquakes storymap.