We know what a massive earthquake is capable of doing. Many countries in this world have experienced this wrath of Mother Nature. Now, one may be unleashed in world’s most densely populated region – Bangladesh.
A report has been published in Natural Geoscience. According to the report, scientists have discovered a subduction zone on a shore sitting right underneath Bangladesh. This subduction zone is where the tectonic plates are grinding against each other. This has put 171 million Bangladesh residents in grave danger.
The Expected Magnitude of the Massive Earthquake
According to a press release here, Michael Steckler – a geophysicist from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University – the lead author of the study, this hazard of unprecedented scale has been long suspected. However, there was no data or model to correctly predict the magnitude of the possible earthquake.
According to Steckler, the tension in the subduction zone is caused by Eurasian Plate and Indo-Australian Plate. This newly identified subduction zone is actually an extension of the same fight between the two tectonic plates that cause the Indian Ocean tsunami back in 2004 and killed over 230,000 people.
Steckler says that these two plates have been vying for position for millions of years and underneath Bangladesh, they have been in a fight for some 400 years minimum. The study authors have come up with a model which predicts that when the tectonic boundary ruptures, a massive earthquake will follow. It may be of the magnitude of 8.2 or even 9. That’s a mega-quake.
Positioning of Tectonic Plates That May Cause the Massive Earthquake
As said earlier, this newly identified subduction zone is the extension of the very same tectonic boundary that caused the 2004 tsunami. This boundary is gradually reaching southeast Asia and as it is happening, the complexities are increasing. Unfortunately, scientists don’t yet fully understand those complexities. What they are saying is that there is a giant plate which makes up most of the Indian Ocean and entire India.
This massive plate is slowly thrusting upwards. It is moving northeast into Asia. This has been happening for many millions of years. It is this movement that formed the Himalayas and also caused the Nepal quake of 2015.
As the plate pushes upwards, a pressure is building clockwise, wrapping Asia and moving from top of Bangladesh and going all the way around the country to end in Myanmar. Because of this wrapping, Bangladesh did experience several earthquakes, which were somewhat large but none of them was a massive earthquake or a mega quake. This led scientists to believe that there was actually no subduction zone underneath Bangladesh.
The new study by Bangladeshi and US scientists now discards that belief. From the data gathered since 2003 and using a new model, they have identified a subduction zone right underneath Bangladesh. This data collected over a decade shows that a part of eastern India and whole of eastern Bangladesh are pushing diagonally into Myanmar. This movement is taking place at a speed of 1.8 inches or 46 millimeters a year. However, GPS data from Myanmar and India shows that most of the strain caused by this move is being absorbed by slow-moving surface faults present in Myanmar and India. Still, Bangladesh is moving towards Myanmar at a rate of 17 millimeters a year. This has been happening for a very long time resulting in the formation of neatly arranged parallel mountains draping the entire landscape. These mountains run from north-to-south.
Area Under Threat Because of the Potential Massive Earthquake
According to the researchers, an area of 24,000 square miles or 250 Km X 250 km is under the threat of this potential massive earthquake. If it happens, this potential massive earthquake will take place only a few miles underneath the surface, threatening millions of lives. Even Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh will be wrapped in this disaster.
According to geologist Syed Humayun Akhter from Dhaka University says that the event will be catastrophic. He says that the subduction zone is covered by 12-miles thick mud pile deposited from the Himalayas, brought down by the rivers Brahmaputra and Ganga. This mud pile will cause immense damage when the earthquake happens. It will liquefy at several place, sucking in people and building and roads.
Akhter says that Bangladesh is not at all prepared for a catastrophic event of this scale. He pointed out that before 1993, there were absolutely no building codes in Bangladesh. Those codes are not even followed properly today. He says that Bangladesh is over populated. Industries and plants have popped up in areas close to the area of the potential massive earthquake. Those establishments will magnify the destruction, leaving behind a catastrophe that is far beyond our imagination.
Geophysicist Roger Bilham from University of Colorado, who was not the part of the study, took a look at the data and said that the data cannot be attacked by any means and the interpretations given by the researchers is extremely good.
Definitely Bangladesh and the neighboring countries, especially Myanmar, have much to worry about. The extent of the damage that this massive earthquake can bring is unfathomable. The only preparations Bangladesh can now take in advance are, improved systems of warning, setup for medical emergency and large-scale evacuation plans.
When is the Massive Earthquake Going to Hit?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Researchers are unable to give a proper time frame. This potential massive earthquake can hit any time. It may be imminent or it may not hit in coming 500 years. However, the researchers are very sure that the earthquake will happen.