22 August 2023
Kate Swayne

What is an earthquake?

Earthquakes are the sudden shaking and vibrating of the Earth’s crust due to a rapid release of energy when rocks break and move along faults.

The Earth's outer layer is made up of seven large separate tectonic plates, with an average thickness of 100km. These plates are constantly moving, at different speeds and in different directions. When the stress caused by the moving plates gets too large, the rocks break and slip past each other releasing energy into the crust in the form of vibrations, which we feel as earthquakes.

Australia’s tectonic plate is moving northwards at a rate of 7cm per year, while the Pacific Plate is moving west at nearly 9cm per year.

Earthquake data

Geoscience AustraliaExternal Link is the leading data source in Australia for data on earthquakes and seismic activity. It’s the trusted advisor on Australia’s geology and geography, applying science and technology to describe and understand the Earth.

Geoscience Australia has a dedicated website for earthquakesExternal Link , which shows the latest earthquake information from the National Earthquake Alerts Centre (NEAC) on an interactive map.

The Geoscience Australia PortalExternal Link also has a wealth of data available within the geophysics area of the portal. The interactive map can be used to highlight a range of layers or options from the site.

This image is a map of Australia with an overlay of the locations of earthquakes from the past 10 years. There are concentrations of earthquakes around Perth, Adelaide and up the south-eastern coast, from Melbourne to Sydney. Link with overlay of earthquakes over the past 10 years

Are earthquakes on the rise in Australia?

Earthquakes are a common occurrence throughout Australia. We used Geoscience Australia’s earthquake websiteExternal Link to select a date range and download the data as a CSV. Below you can see a chart showing the number of earthquakes in Australia from 2002 to 2023.

Number of earthquakes from 2002 to 2023

Column graph showing the number of earthquakes from 2002 to 2023. While the graph shows many ups and downs, there is no visible trend over time. In fact, while the number of earthquakes did seem to be on the incline from 2006 to 2018, 2020 and 2021 see the figures drop again. 2018 is the outlier, with over 1,000 earthquakes in that year, while other years hover around  500 earthquakes per year.
Column graph showing the number of earthquakes from 2002 to 2023.
Number of earthquakes from 2002 to 2023
Download Number of earthquakes from 2002 to 2023

The graph shows no visible trend over time — earthquakes are not on the rise in Australia. In fact, while the number of earthquakes did seem to be on the incline from 2006 to 2018, the figures dropped again in 2020 and 2021.

Over the past 11 years, 2018 is the outlier, with over 1,300 earthquakes. This compares to other years that are closer to 500-600 earthquakes per year.

When was the last earthquake in Australia?

From the data available from Geoscience AustraliaExternal Link , in the past 7 days Australia has experienced 7 earthquakes, including 2 that were off the coast. The largest of these 7 quakes was 3.2 in Port Macdonnell, SA.

Map of Australia with 7 yellow dots that depict 7 earthquakes. The dots are in Port Macdonnell (SA), Berridale (NSW), NW of Nyirripi (NT), offshore Broome (WA), SE of Tennant Creek (NT) and Offshore South-West WA (Indian Ocean).

The 7 earthquakes can be seen on this map of Australia, which is a screenshot taken from Link on 22 August 2023.

Want more Australian earthquake data?

In addition to Geoscience Australia, there are other organisations that keep seismic data. For example, the Seismology Research GroupExternal Link operates a private earthquake observatory network. It also runs the greatest number of earthquake seismograph stations in Australia. This data is not publicly available, however you can see details of the most recent earthquakesExternal Link .

Research Data AustraliaExternal Link provides data for research from over 100 Australian research organisations, government agencies and cultural institutions. It’s the data discovery service of the Australian Research Data CommonsExternal Link (ARDC). Some of the sources of data available come from:

State government open data

For a more detailed look at specific states in Australia, see the open data available from the following state and federal open data portals:

Australian university geological departments

Many Australian universities in Australia have departments providing a wealth of data. A couple of key examples are:

Global seismic data

If you’re interested in data from other parts of the world, you may like to check out these: