Earthquakes are common in Indonesia; historical seismic data can help mitigate the risk

Indonesia, a country at the confluence of three tectonic plates, is frequently rocked by earthquakes. In November 2022, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale caused destruction and loss of life in Cianjur and its surroundings, leaving hundreds dead. While earthquakes are inevitable natural events in Indonesia, their destructive impact can be minimized through mitigation and vigilance. Historical seismic data is one ingredient that can help determine mitigation measures by predicting recurrence and mapping the epicenter of an earthquake.

Records of natural events and disasters were made even before Europeans in the archipelago. The Rukam Inscription, left by Ancient Mataram and dated 829 Saka/907 AD, informs us of the determination of the sima for Rukam Village, which was destroyed by a mountain eruption. The Warungahan Inscription, dated 1227 Saka/1305 AD, found in Tuban in 2018, contains a description of the re-assignment of Sima’s gift by King Nararyya Sanggramawijaya because the previous inscription was lost when an earthquake occurred. According to analysis, the Warungahan referred to by this inscription is Pruploadan Village in Tuban, which is now an important seismic record for disaster response efforts in Tuban.

The recording of natural events became more common after Europeans in the archipelago. From the 17th century, we can trace the earthquake records made by Georg Eberhard Rumpf, a naturalist more famously known as Rumphius. Rumphius had lived in Ambon since 1653 and witnessed an earthquake and tsunami that devastated the island and killed thousands of people, including Rumphius’ own wife and children. His manuscript, Waerachtigh Verhael van de Schuckelijcke Aerdbebinge, is said to be the oldest detailed record of the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia. Such earthquake observation notes were also made by Jacob Cornelis Matthieu Radermacher, founder of the Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, now the National Museum of Indonesia.

Seismic data is vital to prepare for and mitigate the impact of future earthquakes. By studying historical seismic data, we can predict recurrence, map the epicenter of earthquakes, and devise mitigation measures. While earthquakes are inevitable, awareness and knowledge of the reality of life in the Land of the Ring of Fire are essential to continue to echo.