Amending and complicating Chile's seismic catalog with the Santiago earthquake of 7 August 1580

Marco Cisternas, Fernando Torrejón, Nicolás Gorigoitia

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Historical earthquakes of Chile's metropolitan region include a previously uncatalogued earthquake that occurred on 7 August 1580 in the Julian calendar. We found an authoritative account of this earthquake in a letter written four days later in Santiago and now archived in Spain. The letter tells of a destructive earthquake that struck Santiago and its environs. In its reported effects it surpassed the one in the same city in 1575, until now presumed to be the only earthquake in the first century of central Chile's written history. It is not yet possible to identify the source of the 1580 earthquake but viable candidates include both the plate boundary and Andean faults at shallows depths around Santiago. By occurring just five years after another large earthquake, the 1580 earthquake casts doubt on the completeness of the region's historical earthquake catalog and the periodicity of its large earthquakes. That catalog, based on eyewitness accounts compiled mainly by Alexander Perrey and Fernand Montessus de Ballore, tells of large Chile's metropolitan region earthquakes in 1575, 1647, 1730, 1822, 1906 and 1985. The addition of a large earthquake in 1580 implies greater variability in recurrence intervals and may also mean greater variety in earthquake sources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-109
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of South American Earth Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • 1580 Santiago earthquake
  • 16th century Chilean earthquakes
  • Historical earthquakes
  • Seismic catalog of Chile


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