An earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale rattled Longyearbyen and the nerves of some its residents at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, but no injuries or severe damage was reported to officials.
The earthquake was centered in Storfjorden near Edgeøya, according to the Norwegian Seismic Array. A short tremor was followed by one lasting about 30 seconds.
“We have received reports that there were many in Svalbard who observed the earthquake and many were intimidated,” said Berit Opsahl Paulsen, an NSA seismologist, in an interview with NRK.
No aftershocks were reported as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, but there is strong likelihood some will occur, Paulsen said.
Storfjorden is considered an active seismic area due to ancient fault zones near a mid-ocean ridge in Svalbard. An earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale – the strongest recorded in Norwegian history – occurred in the area at 3:46 a.m on Feb. 21, 2008,
“That was early in the morning and the bed was moving,” said Birger Amundsen, who was editor of Svalbardposten when the larger earthquake struck. But because there were strong winds outside “I didn’t connect it with an earthquake.”
He said he was sitting inside Fruene when Tuesday’s earthquake, but didn’t feel any noticeable shaking when it occurred.
The 2008 earthquake caused notable damage to the museum in Barentsburg, as well as lesser damage to some buildings in Longyearbyen. It occurred about 10 kilometers beneath the seabed floor and was followed by about 15 aftershocks, according to The Norwegian Polar Institute.
Before that, the most recent earthquake of note, measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale, struck Jan. 18, 1976.
The strongest earthquake measured on the mainland was a magnitude 5.4 quake in Oslo in 1904, according to the institute. Researchers also believe an earthquake “probably close magnitude 6.0” occurred at Helgeland in 1819, before seismic measurements existed.
A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck east of Svalbard in 1992, but its epicenter was outside Norwegian waters.