December 19th, 2011 13:30 EST
Kashmir: Can Earthquakes Be Predicted?
Srinagar: On October 8, 2005, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded in present Kashmir, struck with no apparent warning across the Line of Control (LOC) in Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. Over 40,000 people were killed across the Line of Control in this quake. The earth quake created a psychosis and fear in the minds of the people in Valley. Kashmir is located along well known fault zones of the planet earth. So Kashmiris would believe anything related to quake.
Local newspapers carried front page stories about Roger Bilham of Colorado University predicting a major earthquake in Kashmir that could trigger landslides which would dam the Jhelum River and plunge the valley under water.
Most of the scientists say earthquakes are so hard to predict, how seismologists try to foretell quakes which can confuse people and make them believe in the predictions. For places with a high rate of historic activity, the chance that a quake will hit in a future period of several decades can be quite high.
Can earthquakes be predicted?
No- at least not now that no one could issue an advanced as in case of Roger Bilham warning for a specific time at a specific location that would allow for an orderly evacuation. However, most quakes occur in predictable locations along well known fault zones, as was the case with recent Japan, east Turkey, Kashmir or Hindukush Mountain ranges.
Reliable predictions require precursors, some kind of signal in the earth that indicates a big quake is on the way. The signal has to happen only before large earthquakes and it has to occur before all big quakes. At the moment seismologists have failed to find those precursors, if they even exist.
What sorts of signals have seismologists considered for predicting large earthquakes?
A wide range of potential signals have been studied, ranging from increases in radon gas concentrations, changes in electromagnetic activity, foreshocks signaling a larger quake to come, warping or deformation of the Earth`s surface, geochemical changes in ground water and even unusual animal behavior in themoments leading up to a major quake said geophysicists at California Instituteof Technology in Pasadena in their study.
But, "uncle Bilham, a seismologist and professor of Geology at the University of Colorado at Boulder US, states that the major quake with magnitude 9 are likely to trigger landslides that would dam the Jhelum River, which drains from the Kashmir Valley into Pakistan."
That could put the Kashmir Valley under water within three months - and would also threatendisastrous flooding in Pakistan if the waters were released too quickly. Thetwo nations should develop a cooperative plan to deal with the aftermath of aKashmir mega-quake, " Bilham`s study advised.
Prof Bilham statesthat his new Global Positioning System (GPS) data readings revealing thegradual movement of rocks in the Zanskar Mountains north of the Kashmir Valleyshow those earlier estimates of the maximum possible quake in the region weretoo low.
In this region, the Indian plate is slowly burrowing under the Tibetan plateau. Studies on wherethe relative movement of the Tibetan plateau was slowest, indicates where compression is building up, and a rupture is eventually likely to occur.
"I expected this tobe in the Pir Panchal range, to the south of the Kashmir Valley, but instead itwas in the Zanskar range to the north."
"This means that the zone likely to rupture when a quake eventually happens could be 200 kilometres wide, rather than about 80 kilometres, as was previously thought. The zone would encompass the Kashmir Valley - including the city of Srinagar, home to some 1.5 million people. If slippage occurs over a length of 300 kilometers, asis possible, a mega-quake of magnitude 9 is the likely result. Given building codes and population in the region, that could mean a death toll of 300,000 people," the study states.
A 9-magnitude earthquake which hit Japan on May 11 this year devastated the country.
Bilham points out in the study that seismologists have been caught out by recent mega-quakes, including the 9-magnitude Tohoku quake that hit Japan in March, by basing their estimates on historical patterns, rather than physical measurements. "I think you have to plan for the worst case," he said in his study.
Bilham`s `Mega quake` was unveiled at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Kashmir is placed inseismic zone five, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes. Valley was hitby a 7.6 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter in Muzaffarabad inPakistan-administered-Kashmir causing massive destruction of life and propertyon both sides of the line.
In August this year, five tremors of moderate intensity were recorded in the Valley with one of them having its epicenter in Jammu and Kashmir. The earthquakes occurred from August 19 to 23 with magnitude ranging between 4.8 and 5.1on Richter scale.
Prof Bilham, who has been studying the earthquakes in Himalayan region for past 20 years, had visited Kashmir in 2007 along with Dr Susan Hough of US Geological Survey, Pasadena California.
The US based seismologist Roger Bilham`s Warning that `Mega Earth quake` can caused evastation needs to be verified and people of Valley need not to panic said Director Information Jammu & Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the Kashmir based experts recommend the state government to undertake micro-seismic zoning in the Valley to minimize loss of human lives in case of any such eventuality.
Director Information, Khawaja Farooq Renzushah told Agence India Press that no conclusion can be made on such reports of American based scientist, unless the National Metrological and Disaster Management department and experts endorse this `imaginary` surveyreport.
"Nine magnitude earthquake prediction has caused unnecessary panic among the people of valley," and adding that he advised these scientists to get their reports further verified before giving it to media.
Renzu said that Last year in July 2010 similar report was issued about disastrous earth quake prediction in East Turkistan and Kashgar similar Survey was published in media according to which entire belt of Kashgar and east Turkistan was predicted tobe erased out of world map as a result devastating earth quake.
He said Chinese authorities controlling east Turkistan and Kashgar in the garb of this threat survey, demolished precious centaury old heritage buildings in Kashgar.
It is really lament able that Kashgar authorities instead of verifying the survey report misused the same for destroying centaury old high cultural sites of great saints in the Kashgar and precious heritage buildings were unnecessary demolished.
While talking to Agence India Press on this topic, he advised such alarming survey report of American based scientist with regard to 9 magnitudes richer scale earth quakereport should be verified and analyzed by concerned experts before created anypanic or human cry.
When contacted officials associated with Disaster Management Cell of Kashmir refused tocomment on the issue.
Some promising approaches may lead to successful predictions in the future. May be someday scientists and seismologists will come up with a prediction method to minimize the human and property loss. But at present no such prediction is available tothe world. (AIP News)
Agence India Press
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