List of earthquakes in Guatemala

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Plate tectonics in the Americas Colombiatectonic.png
Plate tectonics in the Americas
Motagua Fault (green line) and the Middle America Trench (pink line) Guatemala1976EarthquakeMap.jpg
Motagua Fault (green line) and the Middle America Trench (pink line)

Earthquakes are relatively frequent occurrences in Guatemala. [1] The country lies in a major fault zone known as the Motagua and Chixoy-Polochic fault complex, which cuts across Guatemala and forms the tectonic boundary between the Caribbean plate and the North American plate. In addition, along Guatemala's western coast line, the Cocos plate pushes against the Caribbean plate, forming a subduction zone known as the Middle America Trench located approximately 50 km off Guatemala's Pacific coast. This subduction zone led to the formation of the Central America Volcanic Arc, and is an important source of offshore earthquakes. [2] Both these major tectonic processes have generated deformations within the Caribbean plate and produced secondary fault zones, like the Mixco, Jalpatagua, and Santa Catarina Pinula faults. [3]

Guatemala Republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Motagua Fault

The Motagua Fault is a major, active left lateral-moving transform fault which cuts across Guatemala, continuing offshore along the southern Pacific coast of Mexico, returning onshore along the southernmost tip of Oaxaca, then continuing offshore until it merges with the Middle America Trench near Acapulco. It forms part of the tectonic boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. It is considered the onshore continuation of the Swan Islands Transform Fault which runs under the Caribbean Sea.

The Chixoy-Polochic Fault, also known as Cuilco-Chixoy-Polochic Fault, is a major fault zone in Guatemala and southwestern Mexico. It runs in a light arc from the east coast of Guatemala to Chiapas, following the deep valleys of the Polochic River, Chixoy River and Cuilco River.


The most destructive earthquake in recent Guatemalan history was the 1976 quake with a magnitude of 7.5 Mw and a hypocenter depth of just 5 km. This shallow-focus earthquake, originating from the Motagua Fault, caused 23,000 fatalities, leaving 76,000 injured and causing widespread material damage. Surprisingly, the 7.9 Mw earthquake of 1942, though higher in magnitude, was much less destructive, in part because of its substantially deeper hypocenter depth of 60 km. [4]

1976 Guatemala earthquake February 1976 earthquake in Guatemala

The 1976 Guatemala earthquake struck on February 4 at 03:01:43 local time with a moment magnitude of 7.5. The shock was centered on the Motagua Fault, about 160 km northeast of Guatemala City at a depth of 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) near the town of Los Amates in the department of Izabal.

The moment magnitude scale is a measure of an earthquake's magnitude based on its seismic moment, expressed in terms of the familiar magnitudes of the original "Richter" magnitude scale.

Hypocenter site of an earthquake or a nuclear explosion

A hypocenter is the point of origin of an earthquake or a subsurface nuclear explosion. In seismology, it is a synonym of the focus. The term hypocenter is also used as a synonym for ground zero, the surface point directly beneath a nuclear airburst.

A number of earthquakes with low magnitudes caused major damage in very localized areas, which may in part be explained by their relatively shallow depth. This was the case with the 1985 Uspantán earthquake of 5.0 Mw with a depth of 5 km, which destroyed most buildings in the town of Uspantán, but caused little or no damage in the rest of the country. [5]

Uspantán Municipality in El Quiché, Guatemala

Uspantán is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of El Quiché. It is one of the largest municipalities of El Quiché and stretches from the mountainous highlands in the South to the tropical lowlands in the North. The municipal seat is in Villa de San Miguel Uspantán with a population of 2,800. The birthplace of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, a community named Laj Chimel, is located Uspantán not far from the municipal seat. Completion of paving on the road in from Chichicastenango has brought a small tourist boom to the town.


Guatemala is in constant earthquake activity. However, there are some earthquakes that are more notable due to the damage they've caused. Notable earthquakes in recent Guatemalan history include the following: [4]

NameDateEpicentre Mag. MMI DepthNotesDeaths
1717 Guatemala earthquake 1717-09-29
Antigua Guatemala [6] 7.4 Mi~IXModified Mercalli intensity estimated at IX
1751 Guatemala earthquake 1751
Antigua Guatemala .....
1765 Guatemala earthquake 1765-10-24
Ostuncalco (Quetzaltenango) [6] 7.6–8.2 Mi~VIIModified Mercalli intensity estimated at VII. Duration of shaking reported at 7–8 minutes, which may indicate possible rupture up to Chiapas. [6]
1773 Guatemala earthquake 1773-07-29
Antigua Guatemala 7.5 Mi~VIIIOn July 29 of 1773, and the following months, a series of strong earthquakes shook Antigua Guatemala and left most of the city in rubble. [7] [8] Also called Santa Marta earthquakes.
1816 Guatemala earthquake 1816-07-22
Alta Verapaz [9]
(Chixoy-Polochic Fault)
7.5 Mi~VIIModified Mercalli intensity estimated at VII, covering 13,000 km2
1902 Guatemala earthquake 1902-04-18
20:23:50 hrs
14°54′N91°30′W / 14.90°N 91.50°W / 14.90; -91.50
7.5 Ms25 [60]See also: 1902 Guatemala earthquake. This earthquake may be related to the colossal eruption of the Santa María volcano on 24-10-1902, which killed at least 5000 people.800–2000
1913 Guatemala earthquake 1913-03-08
08:55 hrs
near Cuilapa
Jalpatagua Fault [10]
5.06.5 kmDestroyed the town of Cuilapa 60
1917 Guatemala earthquake 1917-12-26
05:21:00 hrs
Guatemala City 5.6VII-IXSeveral foreshocks since November 27, 1917 have preceded this quake.250
1918 Guatemala earthquake 1918-01-04
04:30.10 and 04:32.25 LT
near Guatemala City 6.0VIMagnitude estimate by INSUVIMEH [4]
1942 Guatemala earthquake 1942-08-06
23:36.98 UTC
13°54′N90°48′W / 13.9°N 90.8°W / 13.9; -90.8 [4]
Western Guatemala [11]
7.960 km8.3 Ms , according to Insivumeh. [4] 38 deaths, many injured, and widespread material damage. Additional damage due to landslides.38
1959 Guatemala earthquake 1959-02-20
18:16.33 UTC
15°56′N90°35′W / 15.94°N 90.59°W / 15.94; -90.59
48 km
1976 Guatemala earthquake 1976-02-04
09:01 UTC
15°19′N89°06′W / 15.32°N 89.10°W / 15.32; -89.10
Motagua Fault
7.5IX5 kmActivated destructive aftershocks in the Mixco Fault near Guatemala City. See also:1976 Guatemala earthquake 23,000
1985 Guatemala earthquake 1985-10-11
03:39.17 hrs
15°18′N90°54′W / 15.3°N 90.9°W / 15.3; -90.9
5.0VII5 kmMajor damage in the town of Uspantán (80% of buildings affected)
1988 Guatemala earthquake 1988-11-03
14:14.10 hrs
13°52′52″N90°27′00″W / 13.881°N 90.450°W / 13.881; -90.450
San Vicente Pacaya
6.0VI69 km5 casualties [12] 5
1991 Guatemala earthquake 1991-09-11
03:48:13 hrs
14°24.12′N91°03.06′W / 14.40200°N 91.05100°W / 14.40200; -91.05100
5.3VII32 kmDestroyed 80% of the town of San Miguel Pochuta 25
1993 Chiapas earthquake 1993-09-10
19:12:54 hrs
14°43′01″N92°38′42″W / 14.717°N 92.645°W / 14.717; -92.645
offshore Chiapas, San Marcos department
7.234 kmCaused 1 casualty and considerable material damage in southwestern Guatemala where some roads were blocked due to rockslides. Some damage in parts of Chiapas. [13] 1
1995 Guatemala earthquake 1995-12-19
14:56:06 hrs
15°18′04″N90°09′14″W / 15.301°N 90.154°W / 15.301; -90.154
5.3IV10 km1
1998 Guatemala earthquake 1998-01-10
02:20:10 hrs
14°22′26″N91°28′23″W / 14.374°N 91.473°W / 14.374; -91.473
Santo Domingo Suchitepéquez
6.6VII, VI33 km16 people injured in Quezaltenango, 3 injured in San Marcos, 5 injured in Guatemala city. Buildings damaged in the Quezaltenango and San Marcos Departments. A number of houses destroyed in Solola Department. [14]
1998 Guatemala earthquake (March) 1998-03-02
20:24:46 LT
13°52.92′N91°52.38′W / 13.88200°N 91.87300°W / 13.88200; -91.87300
offshore Pacific Ocean
5.6V, III33 km
2007 Guatemala earthquake 2007-06-13
02:29:41 hrs
13°37′23″N90°47′49″W / 13.623°N 90.797°W / 13.623; -90.797
offshore Pacific Ocean
115 km southwest of Guatemala City
6.723 kmSee also: 2007 Guatemala earthquake 0
2008 Guatemala earthquake 2008-05-27
11:28:01 UTC
13°42′54″N90°55′16″W / 13.715°N 90.921°W / 13.715; -90.921
offshore Pacific Ocean [15]
120 km southwest of Guatemala City
5.778 km
2009 Guatemala earthquake 2009-05-03
16:21:47 UTC
14°35′N91°05′W / 14.58°N 91.08°W / 14.58; -91.08
South of Patzún
55 km (35 miles) ESE of Quezaltenango [16]
6.2124 km
2010 Guatemala earthquake 2010-02-23
15:16:00 UTC
15°59′02″N91°23′10″W / 15.984°N 91.386°W / 15.984; -91.386
20 km north of San Mateo Ixtatán [17]
5.610 kmThe earthquake was preceded by a magnitude 5.3 quake on February 23, 2010 at 10:52:15 UTC with its epicentre located at 16°02′53″N91°13′48″W / 16.048°N 91.230°W / 16.048; -91.230 (10 km depth) [18] A magnitude 5.3 quake followed in the same region on March 20, 2010, at 16°02′49″N91°14′10″W / 16.047°N 91.236°W / 16.047; -91.236 (82.4 km depth). [19]
2011 Guatemala earthquake 2011-09-19
18:34:00 UTC
14°19′55″N90°08′31″W / 14.332°N 90.142°W / 14.332; -90.142
53 km south-east of Guatemala City [20]
5.8VII9 kmThe earthquake was preceded by a magnitude 4.8 quake about 30 minutes earlier, and followed by two smaller quakes. [21] 3 [21]
2012 Guatemala earthquake 2012-11-07
16:35:47 UTC
13°59′13″N91°57′54″W / 13.987°N 91.965°W / 13.987; -91.965 (2012 M7.4) [22] 7.4VII24.1 kmThe earthquake was preceded by 3 magnitude 4-5 quakes the prior week.42 [23]
2017 Guatemala earthquake2017-06-14 07:29:05.63 UTC14.982°N 91.988°W 5 km north northeast of San Pablo6.9VI94 kmThe earthquake was followed by several aftershocks including one with a magnitude of 5.5.5
2017 Guatemala earthquake2017-06-22 12:31:04.490 UTC13.753°N 90.949°W 23 km SW of Puerto San Jose [24] 6.846.8 km
M = Moment magnitude scale, unless stated otherwise
MM = Intensity on the Modified Mercalli scale

See also

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML  ·  GPX
Geography of Guatemala

Guatemala is mountainous, except for the south coastal area and the vast northern lowlands of Petén department. The country is located in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Honduras and Belize and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico. Two mountain chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the limestone plateau of the Petén region, north of the mountains. These areas vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between hot and humid tropical lowlands and highland peaks and valleys.

Related Research Articles

The epicenter, epicentre or epicentrum in seismology is the point on the Earth's surface directly above a hypocenter or focus, the point where an earthquake or an underground explosion originates.

Megathrust earthquakes occur at subduction zones at destructive convergent plate boundaries, where one tectonic plate is forced underneath another. These interplate earthquakes are the planet's most powerful, with moment magnitudes (Mw) that can exceed 9.0. Since 1900, all earthquakes of magnitude 9.0 or greater have been megathrust earthquakes. No other type of known terrestrial source of tectonic activity has produced earthquakes of this scale.

Puerto Rico Trench An oceanic trench on a transform boundary between the Caribbean and North American Plates

The Puerto Rico Trench is located on the boundary between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The oceanic trench is associated with a complex transition between the Lesser Antilles subduction zone to the south and the major transform fault zone or plate boundary, which extends west between Cuba and Hispaniola through the Cayman Trough to the coast of Central America. The trench is 800 kilometres (497 mi) long and has a maximum depth of 8,376 metres (27,480 ft) or 5.20 miles in the Brownson Deep, which is the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean and the deepest point not in the Pacific Ocean. On December 19, 2018, its deepest point was identified by the DSSV Pressure Drop using a state-of-the-art Kongsberg EM124 multibeam sonar and then directly visited and its depth verified by the manned submersible Deep-Submergence Vehicle DSV Limiting Factor.

Middle America Trench A subduction zone in the eastern Pacific off the southwestern coast of Middle America

The Middle America Trench is a major subduction zone, an oceanic trench in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the southwestern coast of Middle America, stretching from central Mexico to Costa Rica. The trench is 1,700 miles (2,750 km) long and is 21,880 feet at its deepest point. The trench is the boundary between the Rivera, Cocos, and Nazca plates on one side and the North American and Caribbean plates on the other. It is the 18th-deepest trench in the world. Many large earthquakes have occurred in the area of the Middle America Trench.

The Sierra de Chuacús is situated in the central highlands of Guatemala, and runs southeast from El Quiché to Baja Verapaz. Its northwestern border is marked by the Chixoy River basin in Uspantán, which separates it from the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Its eastern border is marked by the Salamá River which separates it from the Sierra de las Minas. Its southeastern border is defined by the Motagua River valley.

2009 Swan Islands earthquake

The 2009 Swan Islands earthquake occurred on May 28 at 02:24:45 AM local time with a moment magnitude of 7.3 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VII. The epicenter was located in the Caribbean Sea, 64 kilometres (40 mi) northeast of the island of Roatán, 19 miles northeast of Port Royal, Isla de Bahias, 15 miles northwest of Isla Barbaretta, and 130 kilometres (81 mi) north-northeast of La Ceiba. Three aftershocks followed the earthquake within magnitude 4 range.

1982 El Salvador earthquake

The 1982 El Salvador earthquake occurred southeast of San Salvador on 19 June at 00:21 local time. This undersea earthquake struck offshore in the Pacific Ocean and had a surface wave magnitude of 7.2 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VII. Occurring adjacent to a subduction zone at the Middle America Trench, this normal-slip shock left at least 16 and as many as 43 people dead, and many injured, and also inflicted $5 million in damage.

1984 Northern Sumatra earthquake

The 1984 Northern Sumatra earthquake occurred with a moment magnitude of 7.2 on November 17 at 06:49 UTC. The epicentre was located off the coast of Sumatra, near the island of Nias, where building damage was reported. This earthquake could be strongly felt in parts of Northern Sumatra, including Padang and Medan. The focal mechanism corresponded to reverse faulting.

2011 Lorca earthquake A big earthquake in Lorca (Murcia)

The 2011 Lorca earthquake was a moderate 5.1 Mw earthquake that occurred 6:47 p.m. CEST on 11 May 2011, near the town of Lorca, causing significant localized damage in the Region of Murcia, Spain, and panic among locals, and displacing many from their homes. The quake was preceded by a magnitude 4.4 (Mw) foreshock at 17:05, that inflicted substantial damage to many older structures in the area, including the historical Espolón Tower of Lorca Castle, the Hermitage of San Clemente and the Convent of Virgen de Las Huertas. Three people were killed by a falling cornice. A total of nine deaths have been confirmed, while dozens are reported injured. The earthquake was the worst to hit the region since a 5.0 Mw tremor struck west of Albolote, Granada in 1956.

1981 Playa Azul earthquake October 1981 earthquake in Mexico

The 1981 Playa Azul earthquake occurred on October 24, 1981, at 21:22 local time. It was located near Playa Azul, Michoacán, Mexico. The magnitude of the earthquake was Mw 7.2, or Ms 7.3. Three deaths were reported, two from Michoacán and one from Mexico City. Some buildings were damaged in both Michoacán and Mexico City. A small tsunami was registered in Acapulco with a maximum height of 9 cm.

2012 Costa Rica earthquake

The 2012 Costa Rica earthquake occurred at 08:42 local time on September 5. The epicenter of the 7.6 Mw earthquake was in the Nicoya Peninsula, 11 kilometers east-southeast of Nicoya. A tsunami warning was issued shortly afterwards, but later cancelled. Two people are known to have died, one from a heart attack and another, a construction worker, crushed by a collapsing wall. It was the second strongest earthquake recorded in Costa Rica's history, following the 1991 Limon earthquake.

1816 Guatemala earthquake

The 1816 Guatemala earthquake occurred at 15:30 UTC on 22 July. It had an estimated magnitude of 7.5 to 7.75 on the Mw and a maximum perceived intensity of IX (Violent) on the Mercalli intensity scale. It was caused by movement on the Chixoy-Polochic Fault. The area affected by shaking up to intensity VII (Very strong) was at least 13,000 km2. At least 23 deaths were reported. The discovery of this earthquake 175 years after it occurred was based on study of historical documents, and is notable for showing that this portion of Guatemala, previously believed by many planners to be of low seismic risk, has experienced, and is at further risk of, very large earthquakes.

August 2016 Central Italy earthquake 6.1 or 6.2 magnitude earthquake on 24 August 2016 in the central parts of Italy

An earthquake, measuring 6.2 ± 0.016 on the moment magnitude scale, hit Central Italy on 24 August 2016 at 03:36:32 CEST.

2017 Valparaiso earthquake

The Valparaíso earthquake of April 2017 was a strong earthquake that shook the cities of Valparaíso and Santiago on Monday, April 24, 2017 at 18:38 local time and 21:38 UTC. Its epicenter was located off the coast of the Valparaíso Region and had a magnitude of 6.9 Mw. On the scale of Mercalli, the earthquake reached an intensity VII.


  1. "Studies related to seismicity and seismic hazard in Guatemala: seismic sources, past events and monitoring". Michigan Technological University. Retrieved 2010-03-15.
  2. Cáceres, 2003
  3. INSIVUMEH. "Marco tectónico para Guatemala".
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 INSIVUMEH. "Principales eventos sísmicos del siglo XX en Guatemala".
  5. INSIVUMEH. "Marco tectónico para Guatemala".
  6. 1 2 3 White e.a., 2004: 394
  7. Moncada 2003
  8. "Terremoto de 1773 Guatemala". Provincia San Vicente Ferrer. Dominicos en Centroamérica. Retrieved 2010-02-27.
  9. White, 1985
  10. Tucker e.a., 1994: 241
  11. USGS. "Historic Earthquakes - Guatemala, 1942 August 06".
  12. NOAA database
  13. USGS - Significant Earthquakes of the World: 1993
  14. USGS. Significant Earthquakes of the World, 1998
  15. USGS. "Pager: M 5.7 - OFFSHORE GUATEMALA".
  16. USGS. "Magnitude 6.2 GUATEMALA".
  17. USGS. "Magnitude 5.6 GUATEMALA, 2010 February 23 15:16:00 UTC".
  18. USGS. "Magnitude 5.3 GUATEMALA, 2010 February 23 10:52:15 UTC".
  19. USGS. "Magnitude 5.3 - GUATEMALA, 2010 March 20 21:55:49 UTC". Archived from the original on February 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  20. USGS. "Magnitude 5.8 GUATEMALA, Magnitude 5.8 - GUATEMALA, 2011 September 19 18:34:00 UTC" . Retrieved 2013-02-04.
  21. 1 2 Mike McDonald. Four earthquakes hit Guatemala, killing three. Reuters, 19 September 2011.
  22. USGS. "M7.4 - 35km S of Champerico, Guatemala 2012-11-07 16:35:47 UTC" . Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  23. "Crece número de evacuados y casas dañadas". Archived from the original on 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  24. "M 6.8 - 23km SW of Puerto San Jose, Guatemala". Retrieved 2017-06-22.


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