The 26 May 2006 magnitude 6.4 Yogyakarta earthquake south of Mt. Merapi volcano: Did lahar deposits amplify ground shaking and thus lead to the disaster?
Indonesia is repeatedly unsettled by severe volcano- and earthquake-related disasters, which are geologically coupled to the 5-7 cm/a tectonic convergence of the Australian plate beneath the Sunda Plate. On Saturday, 26 May 2006, the southern coast of central Java was struck by an earthquake at 2254 UTC in the Sultanate Yogyakarta. Although the magnitude reached only M w = 6.4, it left more than 6,000 fatalities and up to 1,000,000 homeless. The main disaster area was south of Mt. Merapi Volcano, located within a narrow topographic and structural depression along the Opak River. The earthquake disaster area within the depression is underlain by thick volcaniclastic deposits commonly derived in the form of lahars from Mt. Merapi Volcano, which had a major influence leading to the disaster. In order to more precisely understand this earthquake and its consequences, a 3-month aftershock measurement campaign was performed from May to August 2006. We here present the first location results, which suggest that the Yogyakarta earthquake occurred at 10-20 km distance east of the disaster area, outside of the topographic depression. Using simple model calculations taking material heterogeneity into account we illustrate how soft volcaniclastic deposits may locally amplify ground shaking at distance. As the high degree of observed damage may have been augmented by the seismic response of the volcaniclastic Mt. Merapi deposits, this work implies that the volcano had an indirect effect on the level of earthquake destruction.