Quakes in Christchurch: Why Today’s Big Temblors Won’t Be New Zealand’s Last

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REUTERS / Mark Baker / Pool

A rescue worker walks through earthquake rubble in Christchurch on March 2, 2011.

Earlier today, New Zealand underwent two large 5.3 and a 6.0 magnitude earthquakes in Christchurch, just five months after a 6.3 quake killed 181 people in the city on the nation’s South Island. Fortunately for the island nation, there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries this time around. There’s a reason why New Zealand is often called the “Shaky Isles.” Christchurch in particular has seen more than its share of frighteningly strong earthquakes. Last September, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the community. Despite the lack of fatalities, damages were estimated around $2.5 billion.

(More on TIME.comSee more about today’s Christchurch earthquake.)

Sitting directly in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the small South Pacific nation records around nearly 14,000 earthquakes annually. Though only a small percentage of these seismic events are even ever felt, a handful do create damage each year.

(More on TIME.comSee the damage from the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.)

Home to most of the world’s volcanic and seismic activity, the Ring of Fire is situated on the Pacific Ocean’s basin. Stretching from New Zealand to Japan, the Ring of Fire loops its way all the way to the western coast of North and South America and lays claim to 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes.

Why? The earthquake-prone region lies along the rim of the Pacific Plate, the largest tectonic plate on the planet, just where it meets up with other tectonic plates. In New Zealand, the Pacific Plate converges with the Indo-Australian Plate, giving rise to many of the earthquakes that happen on the island.

(More on TIME.comSee earthquake damage in Christchurch from February.)

New Zealand, of course, is only one nation out of many that the Ring of Fire constantly affects. In March, Japan, which also sits on the Ring, saw the fourth-largest earthquake in recorded history. Over 20,000 people died in the quake and ensuing tsunami.

(More on TIME.comSee pictures of the earthquake and tsunami damage in Japan.)