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Explore the seismic past and present of Malta, from historic earthquakes to recent tremors, as nature’s power continues to shape the island’s landscape. Discover how the University of Malta’s Seismic Monitoring and Research Unit is working to safeguard lives amid seismic activity.


Malta’s Recent Earthquake and its Historical Seismic Activity

As a sunny island paradise, Malta often conjures images of serene coastal beauty. However, on March 29, 2024, the tranquil facade was shaken by news of yet another earthquake, originating from a 5.9-magnitude quake in Greece. Felt across the entire island, this seismic event left both residents and tourists understandably concerned. In fact, Malta has a long history of enduring seismic upheavals, with these recurrent natural disturbances serving as constant reminders of nature’s power.

Historical Earthquakes in Malta

Looking back, Malta experienced an exceptionally rare major earthquake in 1693. This seismic event, measuring a staggering 7.4 magnitude, though its epicenter was approximately 170 kilometers southeast of Malta in southeastern Sicily, still unleashed devastating waves that caused a tsunami, destroying the harbor of Valletta. The earthquake’s catastrophic force nearly decimated nearly two-thirds of the buildings and population of the Sicilian city of Catania.

An even more terrifying seismic event occurred from October 11 to 12, 1856, with a 8.3-magnitude earthquake in the Mediterranean. Despite being over 1000 kilometers away from Malta on the Greek island of Crete, the intense tremors still inflicted severe damage in Valletta and the island of Gozo. Many houses had massive cracks in their floors, and numerous historical landmarks, such as the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina and the bell tower of Zurrieq Parish Church, suffered irreparable damage.

Though Malta is not situated in a seismic hotspot like Japan or Mexico, it still experiences frequent strong earthquakes from the entire Mediterranean region. Adjacent to the Maltese archipelago lies the renowned seismic belt known as the “Hellenic Arc,” a volcanic circular mountain range stretching from Greece to Italy. Active faults hidden within this region could cause intense tremors that reach Malta. Furthermore, the slow movement of the Atlantic Plate beneath the Earth’s crust is also a major contributor to accumulating energy and triggering earthquakes. Even seemingly insignificant geological activities in the area, such as rock collapses or landslides, could lead to significant tremors. In fact, during the astonishingly destructive earthquake of 1693, the Srendi Bay in Gozo witnessed the bizarre spectacle of seawater receding a kilometer before violently rushing back, adding to the casualties and devastation.

In essence, Malta‘s geological environment and structural framework dictate that it will forever contend with the ruthless force of earthquakes. While major seismic events may seem relatively rare, the ensuing tremors could be more frequent than imagined. To address this threat, the University of Malta’s Seismic Monitoring and Research Unit is intensifying its observation of local and regional seismic activities, striving to unravel the mysteries of underground hazards and safeguarding the lives of the populace. As stewards of the Earth, we should approach nature’s power with reverence, yet also be proactive in preparing for its potential consequences.

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