Himalayan Disaster Sets Alarm Bells Ringing In Kashmir

26 April 2015
Rising Kashmir
Junaid Kathju

Srinagar: Amid the widespread death and destruction wrought by the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, experts believe that even a bigger seismic activity may rattle Kashmir. Between 2007 and 2012, Kashmir University in collaboration with University of Colorado (US) carried out a study which warned of a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the region. Senior seismologist and Reader at the Department of Earth Science, Kashmir University, Dr Bikram Singh Bali was part of the team which had conducted the study. Bali said as per their study there was 'maximum chance' that an earthquake of above 8.5 magnitude on the Richter scale would hit the valley. 'After the 2005 earthquake, our university tied up with University of Colorado. Led by Prof Roger Bilham in 2007, the joint team did an extensive field research for five years and found a 'terrible' 9.0 magnitude on Richter scale seismic activity in Zanskar range,' he told Rising Kashmir. The study states that the major quake is likely to trigger landslides 'that would dam Jhelum River' which drains from the Kashmir Valley into Pakistan. The study also mentions that the last 'great earthquake' occurred in Kashmir in 1555 and a smaller earthquake of 7.6 intensity rocked the region in 2005. Even though the researchers can't predict timing of the earthquake, the study states that given the building codes and population in the region (Kashmir valley), it can lead to a death toll of 3,00,000 people. 'Even the buildings in New Delhi will clatter to ground by the impact of the magnitude of that earthquake,' Bali said. Dr Mohmmad Ismail Bhat, who was then Head of Department of Earth Science at Kashmir University, said after installing GPS sensors in Zanskar range, they found out that there was a possibility that a major earthquake could hit Kashmir region. 'Initially we had expected this to be in Pir Panjal Range, to the south of the Kashmir Valley, but instead it was in Zanskar range to the north,' Bhat said. As per the study, Himalayan zone is divided into three seismic gaps - Kashmir, Central and Assam. 'Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand fall under Kashmir gap that falls in the highest risk zone,' the study reads. The state was hit by a 7.6 intensity quake in 2005 with epicenter around Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir killing over 100000 people. Senior geologist Ruhulla Hassan Mirza, who was also the part of the research, said Kashmir basin as per the Zonation map of India comes under Seismic Zone V making it vulnerable to earthquakes. 'Kashmir is tectonically active belt. Panjal thrust, Muree thrust, main boundary thrusts (NBT) and deep seated thrust were all active and the main contributor for an earthquake,' Ruhullah said. He said as per the geotactic survey of stress accumulation area there is a 3mm increase in the tectonic movement per year increasing the stress level in the southern part of the valley. 'Even though there is no instrument which can predict the earthquake but as per the latest analytical data it makes southern part of the valley most vulnerable to quakes,' Ruhullah said. 'One of the signs of major earthquakes is also that it is preceded by four small Richter scale quakes,' he said. Meanwhile, Director General of Ahmadabad-based Institute of Seismological research B K Rastogi said like Nepal an earthquake of same magnitude is 'overdue' in northern India also. 'An earthquake of the same magnitude is overdue. That may happen either today or 50 years from now in the region of the Kashmir, Himachal, Punjab and Uttrakhand Himalyas. Seismic gaps have been identified in these regions,' B.K. Rastogi told reporters in New Delhi. He said the movement of tectonic plates generates stress over time and rocks at the surface break in response. 'When the stress accumulates every 100 km stretch of the 2,000-km-long Himalyas can be hit by a high-magnitude earthquake. 'The accumulation of stress is going on everywhere. But where it will reach the elastic limit, we don't know nor also when. But what we do know is that it is happening everywhere,' he added.