Getting up close with the Chi Chi Earthquake

By Julia Werth, Student Participant

The excitement and intrigue of a destructive earthquake or volcanic explosion are what drew many of us to the field of geoscience, but as residents of the United States’ geologically stable east coast, few of us have ever seen the results of a recent geologic event. In Taiwan, however, the results are all around us.

The Chi Chi Earthquake, more commonly known as 921 to the local Taiwanese, shocked the nation with its rapid displacement of the land, by 15 meters in spots, on September 21, 1999. The event caused the immediate destruction of bridges and houses and the creation of waterfalls and dams that would drastically change the area’s landscape over the following years.

Hearing about Chi Chi is interesting, no doubt, but to walk in the river bed, see the gorge and measure the strike and dip of the fault line it formed was absolutely fascinating.

After being greeted by smiling merchants selling plump grapes and juicy star fruit – which our driver kindly purchased for us – we headed off the street and onto the dried riverbed formed in only one typhoon season after chi chi to discover what evidence Chi Chi had left behind in the rocks around us.

The story of Chi Chi will be continued for us tomorrow when we explore the main Chi Chi Earthquake museum.