Do earthquakes occur in Antarctica?

Earthquakes do occur in Antarctica, but not very often. There have been some big earthquakes--including one magnitude 8--in the Balleny Islands. The boundary between the Scotia Plate and the Antarctic Plate just grazes the north tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (look "northwest" from the Pole toward South America). There is also a hint of a line of seismicity off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula and some activity in the Kerguelen Plateau (in the Indian Ocean "northeast" from the South Pole). The Kerguelen Plateau is within the Antarctic Plate but it is not part of the Antarctic Continent. As with the interior area of all tectonic plates, earthquakes can and do occur in Antarctica, but they are much less frequent than earthquakes on the plate boundaries.

Another reason why there are fewer earthquakes located in Antarctica than within other plates, such as Australia or North America, is because there are fewer seismic stations to record them in the interior of Antarctica. Even though there are 76 stations in Antarctica that report data to IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology), all but two of them are along the edge of the continent (as of April 2019). The Global Seismographic Network (GSN) has only 4 stations on Antarctica. With most of the continent having no seismic stations, smaller earthquakes are much more likely to go undetected.

Finally, the interior of Antarctica has icequakes which, although much smaller, are perhaps more frequent than earthquakes. The icequakes are similar to earthquakes, but occur within the ice sheet itself instead of the land underneath the ice. Some of our polar observers have told us they can hear the icequakes and see them on the South Pole seismograph station, but they are much too small to be seen on enough stations to obtain a location.

map of Antarctica with green triangles for stations

The map of Antarctica shows that the seismic stations (green triangles) are mostly on the periphery of the continent. Only two stations are in the interior. (Public domain.)

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Date published: December 12, 2007

What Are USGS Scientific Teams Discovering About Antarctica?

When it's summer in the Antarctic, winter is in the northern hemisphere, USGS scientific teams along with many other international researchers are on the Antarctic ice studying unprecedented changes in remote polar regions. 

Date published: February 10, 2005

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Dry Valleys of Antarctica with dry. rocky soil in the foreground and snow-capped mountains and a glacier in the background
December 8, 2016

A typical landscape in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica (January 2015)

A typical landscape in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica (January 2015).

Image: Weddell Seal Research at Erebus Bay, Antarctica
October 23, 2014

Weddell Seal Research at Erebus Bay, Antarctica

Mount Erebus in background.  Little Razorback (left) and Big Razorback (right) islands are sites of seal colonies. Images were obtained under NMFS Permit No: 1032-1917.


Image: Weddell Seal Research at Erebus Bay, Antarctica
October 23, 2014

Weddell Seal Research at Erebus Bay, Antarctica

Mount Erebus in background of Inaccessible Island. Images were obtained under NMFS Permit No: 1032-1917. 



Image: Weddell Seal Research at Erebus Bay, Antarctica
October 23, 2014

Weddell Seal Research at Erebus Bay, Antarctica

Penguins huddle together near Erebus Bay, Antarctica.  Images were obtained under NMFS Permit No: 1032-1917. 



October 15, 2007

Earth Science Week, Continued: Antarctica from Above and Below

In our second Earth Science Week installment, we talk with scientist Richie Williams about the USGS's amazing new satellite imagery of Antarctica as well as what's going on with ice on the southernmost continent.