A Scientific Analysis of the Nepal Earthquake

By Ahmad Sabbagh ’17

Nepal EarthquakeA powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal’s capital Katmandu and surrounding areas on Saturday April 25th, devastating the region and killing over 2,500 people while injuring over 4,600. The earthquake was caused by a sudden release of built-up tension along the fault line where the Indian tectonic plate continues to collide with the Eurasian plate. This 25 million year collision has given rise to the Himalayas, a range of some of the highest mountains in the world. Katmandu, which lies at the base of the Himalayas, has been warned of potential devastating earthquakes for decades.

The region has had a history of devastating earthquakes, including an 8.1-magnitude earthquake that struck in 1934 and killed over 10,000 people as well as a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in 1988 that killed more than 1,000. As the population in this densely populated region continued to expand at an annual 6.5% growth rate, earthquake risks continued to rise as well, with some organizations projecting a 40,000 death toll were the 1934 earthquake to happen again.

The effects of the earthquake were intensified by the region’s physical landscape. The region sits atop an ancient dried-up lake bed and, as a result, has very soft soil, which amplifies seismic motion. The region’s steep slopes also leave it prone to avalanches and landslides. The shaking could set off hundreds of thousands of landslides which could potentially block roads and river valleys, resulting in slowed recovery efforts and possible flood hazards.

In order to reduce potential damages from earthquakes, vulnerable areas like Nepal must enforce strict building codes. As one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, however, Nepal has had a tough time enforcing its building codes, leading to 80% of its buildings being constructed informally without the expertise of engineers. Other areas that are in a similar position of earthquake risks and inability to mitigate such risks include Haiti; Tehran; Padang, Indonesia; and Lima, Peru.

One area, however, has been aggressively enforcing building codes and preparing for such disasters. Istanbul, Turkey is expected to be the epicenter of the next great Turkish earthquake since a 1999 earthquake that struck Izmit, a city to the east of Istanbul, and killed 17,000. While fault lines and physical landscapes are two main factors of deadly earthquakes that are out of human control, Istanbul recognizes that proper engineering and strict building codes are ones that it must take responsibility for in order to secure its city and population.





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