Malpelo Plate

The Malpelo Plate is a small tectonic plate (a microplate) located off the coasts west of Ecuador and Colombia. It is the 57th plate to be identified. It is named after Malpelo Island, the only emerged part of the plate. It is bounded on the west by the Cocos Plate, on the south by the Nazca Plate, on the east by the North Andes Plate, and on the north by the Coiba Plate, separated by the Coiba Transform Fault (CTF). This microplate was previously assumed to be part of the Nazca Plate. The Malpelo Plate borders three major faults of Pacific Colombia, the north to south striking Bahía Solano Fault in the north and the Naya-Micay and Remolino-El Charco Faults in the south.

Malpelo Plate
The Malpelo Plate
Malpelo Plate in purple, Coiba Plate in dark red
PTF in red, CTF in green
Coordinates03°14′N 81°14′W / 3.233°N 81.233°WCoordinates: 03°14′N 81°14′W / 3.233°N 81.233°W
 Coiba Plate (north)
 North Andes Plate (east)
 Nazca Plate (south)
 Cocos Plate (west)
 Chocó Offshore Basin
 Colombian Deep Pacific Basin
1Relative to the African Plate


The Malpelo Plate was identified by a non-closure of the Nazca-Cocos-Pacific plate motion circuit, reported by Tuo Zhang and lead-researcher Richard G. Gordon et al. of Rice University in a paper published in August 2017.[1] The existence of the plate has been hypothesised before.[2] The formation of the oceanic crust of the plate has been estimated to be since the Middle Miocene (14.7 Ma).[3]

The researchers used a Columbia University database of multibeam sonar soundings west of Ecuador and Colombia to identify a diffuse plate boundary that runs from the Panama Transform Fault (PTF) eastward to where the boundary intersects a deep oceanic trench just offshore of the South American coast, north of the Galapagos Islands.[1]



Former plate boundaries in the Pacific, offshore western South America

Mapa de Amenaza Sísmica de Colombia

Seismic activity map of Colombia


Map of Malpelo Island, namesake of the plate

Malpelo island NOAA

Malpelo Island, the only emerged section of the plate


  1. ^ a b Zhang et al., 2017
  2. ^ Herrera Cala, 2013, p.69
  3. ^ Meschede & Barckhausen, 2000, p.4


Further reading

External links

1868 Ecuador earthquakes

The 1868 Ecuador earthquakes occurred at 19:30 UTC on August 15 and 06:30 UTC on 16 August 1868. They caused severe damage in the northeastern part of Ecuador and in southwestern Colombia. They had an estimated magnitude of 6.3 and 6.7 and together caused up to 70,000 casualties. The earthquake of 15 August occurred near El Ángel, Carchi Province, close to the border with Colombia, while that of August 16 occurred near Ibarra in Imbabura Province. Reports of these earthquakes are often confused with the effects of the earthquake of 13 August at Arica.

1906 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake

The 1906 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake occurred at 15:36 UTC on January 31, off the coast of Ecuador, near Esmeraldas. The earthquake had a moment magnitude of 8.8 and triggered a destructive tsunami that caused at least 500 casualties on the coast of Colombia.

1958 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake

The 1958 Ecuador–Colombia earthquake struck the coastal regions of Ecuador and Colombia on January 19 with a surface wave magnitude of 7.6 at 9:07 local time. Approximately 30 percent of Esmeraldas (Ecuador) was destroyed, including the children's department of the hospital, where three children died. In all, 111 persons died and 45 were injured as a result of the earthquake. Water mains were broken and power transmission lines were damaged. The Esmeraldas-Quito highway collapsed at many places. Many other roads of the country were made impassable by cracks and fallen trees. According to press reports, a landslide from the slopes of the Andes at Panado village buried a hundred people. The earthquake was destructive in the cities on the northern coast of the country and was strong from Latacunga to Quito, Ibarra and Tulcán. It was felt at Guayaquil.

1970 Colombia earthquake

The 1970 Colombia earthquake occurred in Colombia on July 31.

1979 Tumaco earthquake

The 1979 Tumaco earthquake occurred at 02:59 local time on 12 December with a moment magnitude of 8.2 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The epicenter was just offshore from the border between Ecuador and Colombia, near the port city of Tumaco. It triggered a major tsunami, which was responsible for most of the estimated 300–600 deaths. The hardest hit area was Colombia's Nariño Department.

1983 Popayán earthquake

The 1983 Popayán earthquake (Spanish: El Terremoto de Popayán) occurred on 31 March in Popayán, Colombia. It had a magnitude of at least 5.5 with an epicenter south west of Popayán at a depth of 12–15 kilometers (7.5–9.3 mi). The earthquake killed 267 people and resulted in the passing of new laws requiring earthquake resistant building materials in zones at risk of tremors.

1994 Páez River earthquake

The 1994 Páez River earthquake occurred on June 6 with a moment magnitude of 6.8 at a depth of 12 km (7.5 mi). The event, which is also known as the Páez River disaster, included subsequent landslides and mudslides that destroyed the small town of Páez, located on the foothills of the Central Ranges of the Andes in Cauca in south-western Colombia.[1] It was estimated that 1,100 people, mostly from the Páez, were killed in some 15 settlements on the Páez River basin, Cauca and Huila departments of which the eponymous town of Páez suffered 50% of the death toll.[2][3] In response to the disaster, the government created the Nasa Kiwe Corporation to bring relief to the area, and begin the reconstruction of the affected areas.

Bahía Solano Fault

The Bahía Solano Fault (Spanish: Falla Bahía Solano), Utría Fault or Utría-Bahía Solano Fault is a westward dipping thrust fault in the department of Chocó on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. The fault has a total length of 290.6 kilometres (180.6 mi) and runs along an average north-south strike of 347 ± 13 from the Panama-Colombia border to Bajo Baudó. The fault is partly offshore in the bays of Solano and Utría and crosses the Chocó Basin and the coastal Serranía del Baudó. Movement of the fault produced the Mw 6.5 1970 Bahía Solano earthquake.

Boconó Fault

The Boconó Fault is a complex of geological fault located in the Eastern Ranges of northeastern Colombia and the Mérida Andes of northwestern Venezuela. The fault has a NE-SW orientation. Boconó Fault is a strike-slip fault and has a dextral relative movement. The fault extends over a length of 500 kilometres (310 mi). The fault, with a slip rate ranging from 4.3 to 6.1 millimetres (0.17 to 0.24 in) per year, has been active since the Early Holocene and earthquakes of 1610 and 1894 are associated with the Boconó Fault.

Coiba Plate

The Coiba Plate is a small tectonic plate (a microplate) located off the coasts south of Panama and northwestern Colombia. It is named after Coiba, the largest island of Central America, just north of the plate offshore southern Panama. It is bounded on the west by the Cocos Plate, on the south by the Malpelo Plate, on the east by the North Andes Plate, and on the north by the Panama Plate. This microplate was previously assumed to be part of the Nazca Plate, forming the northeastern tongue of the Nazca Plate together with the Malpelo Plate. Bordering the Coiba Plate on the east are the north-south striking Bahía Solano Fault and east of that, the Serranía de Baudó, an isolated mountain chain in northwestern Chocó, Colombia.

Ibagué Fault

The Ibagué Fault (Spanish: Falla de Ibagué) is a major dextral slightly oblique strike-slip fault in the department of Tolima in central Colombia. The fault has a total length of 123.9 kilometres (77.0 mi) and runs along an average east-northeast to west-southwest strike of 067.9 ± 11 cross-cutting the Central Ranges of the Colombian Andes.

The fault is part of a regional shear zone and has been active in historical times, possibly associated with the 1825 Ibagué earthquake and an earthquake in 1942.

List of earthquakes in Colombia

This is a list of earthquakes in Colombia. Colombia is a seismically active country and has a large seismic risk in many areas of its territory due to its location at the boundaries of the Malpelo, Panama, Caribbean, North Andes (where most earthquakes occurred) and South American Plates along the Pacific Ring of Fire. The southeastern and extreme eastern portions of Colombia are not as seismically active as the rest of the country.

The first historically registered earthquake felt in Colombia occurred on September 11, 1530, around 10:00 AM, probably with the epicentre near Cumaná, Venezuela. The earthquake was documented by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés in his work La Historia general de las Indias and by friar Bartolomé de las Casas in his book Historia de Las Indias. The first documented earthquake with its epicentre in present-day Colombia territory took place in 1566, with the epicentre estimated around Santander in the department of Cauca. Other important historical earthquakes have been documented by Luis Vargas Jurado, from 1703 until 1764 and Santiago Pérez Valencia between 1785 and 1843.The most devastating earthquake for Colombia happened on August 15 and 16, 1868 off the coast of Ecuador, leading to approximately 70,000 fatalities. The strongest earthquake, with an estimated moment magnitude of 8.8 also happened offshore Ecuador in 1906. Other major earthquakes were the 1875 Cúcuta earthquake with around 10,000 deaths and the 1999 Armenia earthquake with an intensity of X. The deepest registered earthquake happened in the department of Amazonas in 1970 at an estimated depth of almost 645 kilometres (2,116,000 ft). The 1785 Viceroyalty of New Granada earthquake sparked the birth of journalism in Colombia, initiated by Manuel del Socorro Rodríguez, six years after the publication of the Aviso del Terremoto about the earthquake with its epicentre in La Calera, Cundinamarca.

The main seismically active zone is the subduction zone of the Malpelo, formerly Nazca, Plate with strong earthquakes in 1906, 1947, 1958 and 1979. The most active onshore fault systems are the 674 kilometres (419 mi) Bucaramanga-Santa Marta Fault with earthquakes frequently occurring at the Bucaramanga Nest around Aratoca, Santander, the 697.4 kilometres (433.3 mi) Romeral Fault System in the Central Ranges (Popayán 1983 and Armenia 1999) and the 921.4 kilometres (572.5 mi) long Eastern Frontal Fault System in the Eastern Ranges. Other strong earthquakes are associated with the Murindó (Mw 7.2, 1992), Irlanda (Mw 6.8, 1994), Tucurá (Mw 6.7, 1952), Bahía Solano (Mw 6.5, 1970), and Mutatá Faults (Mw 6.0, 2016).

Naya-Micay Fault

The Naya-Micay Fault (Spanish: Falla de Naya-Micay) is a dextral oblique thrust fault in the departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca in Colombia. The fault has a total length of 158.2 kilometres (98.3 mi) and runs along an average northeast to southwest strike of 034.1 ± 12 in the Tumaco Basin along the Pacific Coast of Colombia.

North Andes Plate

The North Andes Plate is a small tectonic plate located in the northern Andes. It is squeezed between the faster moving South American Plate and the Nazca Plate. Due to the subduction of the Nazca Plate this area is very prone to volcanic and seismic activity.

Oca-Ancón Fault System

The Oca-Ancón Fault System (Spanish: Falla Oca-Ancón) is a complex of geological faults located in the northeastern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela near the Caribbean Sea. The fault system is of right-lateral strike-slip type and extends for an approximate length of 830 km (520 mi). The Oca-Ancón Fault System is part of the diffuse boundary between the Caribbean Plate and the South American Plate. The movement rate of the Oca-Ancón Fault System is estimated at 2 millimetres (0.079 in) each year, more than most Venezuelan faults.

Panama Plate

The Panama Plate is a small tectonic plate sandwiched between the Cocos Plate and Nazca Plate to the south and the Caribbean Plate to the north. Most of its borders are convergent boundaries including a subduction zone to the west. It consists, for the most part, of the nations of Panama and Costa Rica.

Remolino-El Charco Fault

The Remolino-El Charco Fault (Spanish: Falla de Remolino-El Charco) is a dextral strike-slip fault in the department of Nariño in Colombia. The fault has a total length of 148.7 kilometres (92.4 mi) and runs along an average northeast to southwest strike of 046.4 ± 6 in the Tumaco Basin along the Pacific Coast of Colombia.

Serranía del Baudó

The Serranía del Baudó is a coastal mountain range on the Pacific coast of Colombia. It is separated from the West Andes by the Atrato valley where the Atrato River flows and Quibdó is located. From the south the range extends from the Baudó River north and slightly west along the coast into Panama terminating at the Golfo de San Miguel. The range is called Serranía del Sapo when it is in Panama. Technically the landform extends south of the Baudó River down to Malaga Bay, but the area has been eroded into low hills and marshlands.

From Cabo Corrientes north to Punta Ardita and on into Panama the Baudó Mountains meet the ocean in steep cliffs, rising up to as high as 70 m (230 ft), with small indentations in the coast providing small pocket beaches, some sandy, but most are shingle or cobble. However, near river mouths the coast has been eroded and there are wide sandy beaches, tidal flats and even mangrove swamps.The highest point, Alto de Buey, is 1,810 m (5,940 ft).

South American Plate

The South American Plate is a major tectonic plate which includes the continent of South America as well as a sizable region of the Atlantic Ocean seabed extending eastward to the African Plate, with which it forms the southern part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The easterly edge is a divergent boundary with the African Plate; the southerly edge is a complex boundary with the Antarctic Plate, the Scotia Plate, and the Sandwich Plate; the westerly edge is a convergent boundary with the subducting Nazca Plate; and the northerly edge is a boundary with the Caribbean Plate and the oceanic crust of the North American Plate. At the Chile Triple Junction, near the west coast of the Taitao–Tres Montes Peninsula, an oceanic ridge known as the Chile Rise is actively subducting under the South American Plate.

Geological research suggests that the South American Plate is moving westward away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: "Parts of the plate boundaries consisting of alternations of relatively short transform fault and spreading ridge segments are represented by a boundary following the general trend." As a result, the eastward-moving and more dense Nazca Plate is subducting under the western edge of the South American Plate, along the continent's Pacific coast, at a rate of 77 mm (3.0 in) per year. The collision of these two plates is responsible for lifting the massive Andes Mountains and for creating the numerous volcanoes which are strewn throughout them.

Tectonic plates of Central America (Pacific PlateNorth American PlateCaribbean Plate Convergence Zone)
Faults and
rift zones
Trenches and
Tectonic plates
fault systems
Other faults

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