Ecuador earthquake aftermath: U-M experts available

April 18, 2016
Contact: Jim Erickson


Several University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck Ecuador on Saturday, as well as last week’s Japan quakes.

Jeroen Ritsema is a professor of geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. His research involves the analysis of seismic waves to image Earth’s interior.

“The Ecuador earthquake is a classic underthrusting earthquake due to the collision of the Nazca and South American plates, which also gives rise to arc volcanism and the Andes Mountains,” Ritsema said.

The fact that powerful earthquakes occurred a few days apart in Japan and Ecuador is a coincidence, Ritsema said. Earthquakes with magnitudes higher than 7.8 occur once a year or so. Magnitude 7 and larger earthquakes happen 10 to 15 times per year.

“These events are infrequent, but it is a coincidence that large earthquakes on nearly opposite sides of the planet occurred only a few days apart,” he said.

Contact: 734-615-6405,

Larry Ruff, professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is a seismologist who studies large earthquakes around the world.

Though the earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador occurred close in time, they are unrelated. Like other “independent random events” such as a coin flip, earthquake occurrence times sometimes cluster, he said.

“The classic example is to flip a coin and graph the results,” he said. “You will observe clusters of ‘heads’ for several flips in a row, as well as gaps where there are many flips with no ‘heads,'” Ruff said.

Contact: 734-763-9301,

Ben van der Pluijm is an earthquake geologist and professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He can discuss the recent Japan and Ecuador earthquakes, particularly the societal challenges and impacts of geohazards.

While both Japan and Ecuador sit along similar tectonic plate boundaries, the earthquakes that occurred there last week are very different, van der Pluijm said. The quakes in both areas matched predicted behaviors, he said. He also noted that the Japan quakes occurred near the Sendai nuclear plant, which was not seemingly affected, and that the impact of the Ecuador quake is exacerbated by building styles in the region.

Contact: 734-763-0373,

Mark Wilson is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology with broad research interests in infectious diseases, including analyzing transmission of disease agents and the determinants of human risk.

He can discuss infectious disease risks associated with the disaster.

Contact: 734-936-0152,

Joseph Eisenberg, chair and professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, studies infectious disease epidemiology.

He has been working in the Esmeraldas Province on the northern coast of Ecuador for the past 15 years. His work there is focused on how changes in social and natural environments, particularly roads, impact disease transmission. He is part of a group of scientists from around the country involved with the Modeling Infectious Disease Agents Study, an NIH-funded program that focuses on infectious disease transmission modeling, using Ecuador as an example.

“There is a concern about the long-term health implications of the earthquake given the infrastructural damage that might affect water quality, among other issues,” he said. “I heard from our collaborators and field workers that there was minimal damage and no deaths in our field site. Most of the deaths and damage was along the central coast.”

Contact: 734-615-1625,

JoLynn Montgomery, adjunct assistant research scientist in epidemiology in the School of Public Health, focuses on applied epidemiology and public health practice, with specialization in control of communicable diseases, vaccine preventable diseases, disease surveillance systems, and public health emergency preparedness and response.

For several years, she directed the Michigan Center for Public Health Preparedness where she trained state and local health department staff in emergency response, epidemiology and disease surveillance.

She can describe the immediate issues of injury and infection, clean food and water supplies, shelter and mental health, as well as discussing the importance of continuing basic public health services, such as childhood vaccinations.

Contact: 734-763-2330,