Earthquakes

Earthquakes are caused by stresses in the Earth’s interior which built up by the movement of the Earth’s crustal plates relative to one another. If these stresses become too large then a fracture occurs, whereby the rock masses suddenly jerkily move past each other.

A medieval earthquake
A medieval earthquake, wood carving from the 16th century
© Sebastian Münster

Summary

In Switzerland, earthquakes are related to the Rhine Graben fault system in the Basel region and to the continental movements of Africa and Europe. These movements are also responsible for the formation of the Alps. 

Earthquake hazard in Switzerland: moderate

The earthquake hazard in Switzerland, by international comparison, is rated as moderate. Strong earthquakes can occur, though distinctly less frequently than in more endangered regions for example, Turkey. The risk is higher in Wallis, in the Basel region, in Central Switzerland, in the Engadin and in the St. Galler Rhine Valley. This is where most of the approximately 400 to 800 per annum registered earthquakes occur. Only approximately 10 to 20 thereof are strong enough that they can be felt.


Organization for Earthquake Safety

The Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at the ETH Zurich is the Swiss federal agency for earthquakes. It monitors seismicity in Switzerland and investigates earthquake hazards.
The Federal Office for the Environment coordinates the implementation of the federal program for earthquake risk reduction. These preventative measures should protect human life and property from the destructive effects of earthquakes. In the process, structural and organizational measures in the direct jurisdiction of the federal government are implemented. In addition, the earthquake risk reduction measures are promoted by the cantons, communes and private sector.

Who is who

Besides the Swiss Seismological Service and the Federal Office for the Environment, universities and institutions from the engineering and insurance sectors also deal with earthquakes.

Universities

Several earthquake subjects are taught and researched at Swiss Universities.


Federal Government


Additional organizations


International associations


Geologische Gefahren


Map of past earthquakes

Seismic zones according to the SIA 261 standard