January 2006 News

Kashmir Could 'face More Quakes'

6 January 2006

Muzaffarabad: One of the world's leading seismologists has warned of the possibility of more earthquakes in the Kashmir region over the next 50 years.Roger Bilham told the BBC News website that Kashmir could experience quakes more severe than the one which killed more than 73,000 people in October. Mr Bilham has been working in quake- affected areas of Pakistan for the past two months. He is considered an authority on the Himalayan faultline. Mr Bilham said his research, using data stretching back 500 years, had shown that huge amounts of energy had been stored in the faultline but it was unevenly distributed. 'This meant that when (the tectonic plates) do go, they are very likely to go with a very large earthquake,' he said. 'Our study basically showed that there were four places that could have a magnitude 8.2 earthquake or more. 'It also showed that the Kashmir region could have something like a magnitude eight earthquake.' Massive damage Mr Bilham said the 8 October earthquake occurred at the very end of what he called the Himalayan tectonics. From what we know of Kashmir's history, there may well be a sequence of earthquakes spread over the next 50 years Roger Bilham 'What we know is that it ruptured a 100km length of the Kashmir region, diagonally from the north-west to the south-east. 'Also, it ruptured from very close to the surface down to a depth of 30-40km.' One can get idea of the extent of the havoc wreaked below the surface by the fact that the Himalayas slipped about three to four metres within about 15 seconds. The mountains behind Muzaffarabad, around the epicentre, actually rose by about a metre, releasing an energy equivalent of a 30 megaton nuclear explosion. These figures, if juxtaposed with historical data, paint a worrying picture. The last major series of earthquakes recorded in Kashmir started in 1501, culminating in a major jolt in 1555. 'We don't know much about those other than that Srinagar and several other places were severely damaged,' Mr Bilham said. 'Although these records are not very accurate or detailed, I think we have enough to use the 1501 and the 1555 earthquakes as a template for the region. 'I would think that the present earthquake would be equivalent to the one in 1501 which means that there exists a possibility of another major slip in Kashmir's future.' Future planning Mr Bilham says this should be a major concern for Pakistan, which is in the process of putting together a massive reconstruction exercise across the quake zone. Pakistan must now ensure that proper earthquake proof structures are erected Roger Bilham 'The government needs to ensure that whatever new structures are built are able to withstand the next earthquake, the next one and the next one,' Mr Bilham said. 'From what we know of Kashmir's history, there may well be a sequence of earthquakes spread over the next 50 years. 'Of course 50 years may sound an awfully long time to a politician but it is the perfect length of time to get the structure of the buildings right.' Another serious reason for the government to heed Mr Bilham's work is the nature of the aftershocks experience in October. According to Mr Bilham, the north-west tip of the rupture which extends to 'the mountains behind Muzaffarabad' has recorded the expected number of aftershocks. Roger Bilham Bilham has been working in the quake-hit areas for the past two months But the south-eastern tip of the rupture, which extends to the plains below the Himalayas, has shown 'a surprising and worrying calm'. 'This means that pressure is building up around the south-eastern tip,' he said. In other words, it means that should the faultline slip in the south-east, the shockwave is very likely to travel towards the plains of Punjab - possibility extending down to the historic city of Lahore. No room for complacency Mr Bilham warns against the conventional wisdom that earthquakes don't strike the same place twice. 'I can give you the example of Andaman and Nicobar Islands which had a series of earthquakes 1848, 1865 and 1881,' he said. 'These were about the same size as the one in Kashmir, some of them even bigger at 7.9 which is three times bigger than the 8 October quake. 'One could have assumed then that another one would not occur there for the next 500 years but we had a massive earthquake in the very same place only 120 years later.'


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