Sabah quake: Sudden slippage along 10km fault south of Mt Kinabalu triggered quake, say scientists

A policeman sits facing the Kinabalu Mountain as a rescue mission continues for climbers stranded on one of Southeast Asia's highest mountains after an earthquake, Sabah, in Kundasang, Malaysia, June 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
A policeman sits facing the Kinabalu Mountain as a rescue mission continues for climbers stranded on one of Southeast Asia's highest mountains after an earthquake, Sabah, in Kundasang, Malaysia, June 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

SINGAPORE - Friday morning's earthquake near Mount Kinabalu was caused by a sudden slippage along a fault about 10km in size, said scientists at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

The fault is centred a little over 10km beneath the earth's surface, on the south of Mount Kinabalu.

It is part of a system of faults that courses nearly 200km from northeast to southwest across this part of Sabah, the scientists at the observatory at the Nanyang Technology University (NTU) said.

Destructive earthquakes in easternmost Malaysia are rare, with Sabah experiencing only three that were of larger magnitude than Friday's 6.0 quake over the last century. In 1923 and 1976, earthquakes of magnitude 6.3 and 6.2 occurred about 100km to the southeast. In 1951, an earthquake of magnitude 6.1 occurred about 50km to the north.

But Friday's (June 5) earthquake has drawn attention to the fact that they do occur there, said Professor Kerry Sieh, director of the earth observatory said.

"Unlike Sumatra, Nepal, Taiwan and Japan, which straddle fast-moving tectonic plate boundaries, Sabah is not a place well-known for destructive earthquakes, so Friday's destructive earthquake came as quite a surprise," he said.

-- PHOTO: US NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

"Seismic recordings from around the world, measurements of ground deformation from orbiting satellites, and analysis of Sabah's mountainous topography are now helping us understand what happened and why."

In comparison to Sabah's four earthquakes of 6.0 magnitude or higher, Indonesia's Sumatra has experienced more than 100 earthquakes with magnitudes greater than or equal to 6 in the past 15 years. Fourteen of these had magnitudes between 7 and 9.2.