Earthquake of magnitude 7.2 strikes off Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands

A shake map released by the US Geological Survey shows the location of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake 133km South-southwest of Kokopo, Papua New Guinea on May 5, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
A shake map released by the US Geological Survey shows the location of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake 133km South-southwest of Kokopo, Papua New Guinea on May 5, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

SYDNEY (AFP) - A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck in the Pacific between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on Thursday, with hazardous tsunami waves possible along the coast, seismologists said.

The quake hit at a depth of 22 kilometres some 149 kilometres southwest of Panguna in PNG and 642 kilometres from the Solomons capital Honiara, the US Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said no Pacific-wide threat was expected but “hazardous waves are possible within 300 kilometres of the epicentre along the coasts of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea”.

“There is a warning out for a local tsunami,” Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Jonathan Bathgate told AFP, but added that no serious damage to nearby communities was expected.

“The coastlines there are sparsely populated, so we do tend to find that even if there’s a small tsunami, it largely goes unnoticed. “But there is still a need for the people on Bougainville and the surrounding islands to certainly move away from the coastline until this threat has passed.”

Chris McKee, from the PNG Geophysical Observatory in Port Moresby, echoed similar sentiments.  “It may have generated a tsunami, we’re not certain yet,,” he said. “We have put out a tsunami warning to the provinces in the area, warning people to be aware.

“We’re not sure at the moment whether there has been any damage but it was a long way off the coast,” he added.

The area around Papua New Guinea has been rattled by a series of quakes over the past week, including a 7.4 magnitude tremor on Tuesday. A tsunami warning was also issued on that occasion but was later lifted without incident. No major damage was reported.

The region lies on the 4,000-kilometre-long Pacific Australia plate, which forms part of the “Ring of Fire", a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

In 2013, the neighbouring Solomon Islands were hit by a devastating tsunami after an 8.0-magnitude quake, leaving at least 10 people dead and thousands homeless after buildings were destroyed.

Bathgate said the latest rattler was separate from the series of tremors that have rocked the New Britain region off PNG in recent days.

But he noted that it occurred along the same plate boundary. “It’s often not unusual to get other large earthquakes in regions that have been very active,” he said. “The large earthquakes in New Britain along the same plate boundary would have impact for the stress field on other parts of that boundary.

“So having those large earthquakes probably does increase the likelihood of having other earthquakes along that plate boundary.”