1739 Yinchuan–Pingluo earthquake

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1739 Yinchuan–Pingluo earthquake
1739 Yinchuan–Pingluo earthquake is located in China
1739 Yinchuan–Pingluo earthquake
Qing Empire (now China)
Max. intensityXI (Extreme)
Casualties50,000 dead

The 1739 Yinchuan–Pingluo earthquake (simplified Chinese: 银川-平罗地震; traditional Chinese: 銀川-平羅地震; pinyin: Yínchuān-píng luó dìzhèn) rocked the northern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on January 3 with an epicenter in the prefecture-level city Shizuishan. The estimated magnitude 7.1–7.6 earthquake had a maximum intensity of XI on the Mercalli intensity scale, and killed about 50,000 residents and officials. It was widely felt; perceived in Shanxi, Shaanxi and Hebei provinces.[1] Aftershocks persisted for more than two years with the largest being a 5.5 on February 13 that same year.[1]

Tectonic setting

Although northern China is nowhere near the boundaries of tectonic plates, the region is straddled with faults and there are ongoing deformation. Ningxia lies in a complex transition zone of compression at the northeastern Tibetan Plateau to extension, horst and graben features in the Ordos Plateau. To the south, the massive strike-slip Haiyuan Fault comes in and becomes a group of reverse faults.[2]

The Yinchuan

Alxa Desert while the Ordos Plateau is to the east. The extension rate of the Yinchuan graben is believed to be 2.9 ± 1 mm/yr. The graben has accumulated up to 7 km of sediments from the late Eocene.[2]

At its southern tip, the Sanguankou and Niushoushan faults, together with other northwest–southeast trending faults, form the south boundary of the block. At the north end of the block, the Zhengyiguan Fault, a dextral strike-slip fault runs through the Helanshan Mountains.

Two inferred earthquakes of Mw  6.5 occurred in the area in 1143 and 1477, and an Mw  6.0 in 1921 would be the most recent major activity in the graben.[3][4] The average recurrence interval for large earthquakes like that of 1739 in the region is about 1,500 to 2,000 years.


Initially given a magnitude of 8.0, it may have been the world's largest intraplate earthquake with a normal faulting mechanism, although research uncovered that the likely magnitude was Mw  7.1–7.6. Continental intraplate normal earthquake with magnitudes larger than Mw  7.0 are uncommon.[3] The source fault was determined to be the East Helanshan Fault which ruptured for an estimated 88 km. An estimated maximum slip has been suggested at 10 to 13 km. Fault scarps known as the Suyukou scarps were discovered along the trace of the East Helanshan Fault preserved in alluvial fans for 16.5 km. Some of these were as high as 11 meters, but they were not from one single event; multiple earlier earthquakes were identified from the scarp. The maximum height of the scarp created by the earthquake was 5.1 meters, with an average of 3.0 meters. Another set of scarps known as the Hongguozigou scarps 65 km away from the Suyukou scarp was traced for 3.5 km. It was a near vertical wall 2.7 meters high, and has a dextral offset of 3 meters.[4]

However, another research placed the source fault as the Huanghe Fault. This fault is mostly buried under sediments, and is on opposite sides of the graben, parallel to the East Helanshan Fault. It is more than 120 km long, much of the fault scarps have eroded away, and is buried under several meters of sediments.[4]

Strong shaking from the earthquake was inferred to be along the trace of the Yinchuan–Pingluo and Huanghe faults, where buildings in the area were almost totally destroyed, while along the East Helanshan and Luhuatai faults, many buildings were still standing with slight damage. The Shuang Towers, 15 stories high, and build near the Suyukou scarps did not collapse during the quake of 1739, but towers in Yinchuan City, closer to the Huanghe Fault were totally destroyed. These damage patterns has been inferred that the strongest shaking intensities were on the eastern side if the graben, where the Huanghe and Yinchuan–Pingluo faults are close to the surface. It was previously thought that The Great Wall which runs through Ningxia was offset by a surface rupture was instead built on a pre-existing fault scarp of the Helanshan Piedmont Fault Zone, not formed by the earthquake of 1739. The fault scarp was dated at 2370 and 2060 BP; much older than the wall itself which was built in the early 16th century.[4]


The strongest shaking from the earthquake were in Yinchuan and Pingluo, where maximum intensity of XII was determined on the Chinese seismic intensity scale, and XI on the Mercalli intensity scale. In this region of intensity, the earthquake collapsed most houses, temples, offices, and a city wall 10 meters tall and 6 meters wide. Ground fissures up to an meter wide, and 100 meters long, and great subsidence were accounted in historical records.[5]

Yinchuan saw the deaths of over 15,300 people that day. The city was completely levelled, and blazing fires burned all the way through the night as many canals were destroyed, shutting off the flow of water. The ground opened for more than 100 meters, where sand and black water erupted.[1]

See also


  1. ^ . Retrieved 17 Dec 2020.
  2. ^ a b Timothy A. Middleton, Richard Thomas Walker, Barry Parsons and Qiyun Lei (April 2015). "The history of faulting in the Yinchuan Graben, northern China, INGV Miscellanea 27, Abstracts Volume". 6th International INQUA Meeting on Paleoseismology, Active Tectonics and Archaeoseismology. Retrieved 17 December 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^
    doi:10.1002/2015JB012355.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link
  4. ^ – via ScienceDirect.
  5. doi:10.1785/BSSA0760051253.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link