Why was the earthquake in Turkey so devastating? And what will happen next?

Seismologists said that the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria, Monday, with a magnitude of 7.8, may be one of the most fatal earthquakes in the past ten years, as it caused a rift extending for more than 100 km between the Anatolian plate and the Arabian plate.

Here are the scientists’ interpretation of what happened below the Earth’s surface and what to expect in the aftermath:

Where was the origin of the earthquake?

The epicenter was about 26 km east of the Turkish city of Norday and at a depth of about 18 km at the East Anatolia Fault. The earthquake sent waves to the northeast, causing devastation in central Turkey and Syria.

During the 20th century, the East Anatolian Fault did not cause significant seismic activity. “If we trace the (large) earthquakes recorded by seismometers, we find nothing,” said Roger Mawson, an honorary researcher at the British Geological Survey.

The region has only recorded three magnitude-6 earthquakes since 1970, according to the USGS. But in 1822, the region was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake, killing about 20,000 people.

How strong is this earthquake?

Earthquakes of magnitude greater than seven have averaged fewer than 20 throughout history, making today’s earthquake a serious event.

Compared to the earthquake that hit central Italy in 2016 with a magnitude of 6.2 and killed about 300 people, the energy released from the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria today is 250 times more than the earthquake in Italy, according to Joanna Faure Walker, President of the London University College of Risk and Disaster Reduction.

Only two of the deadliest earthquakes from 2013 to 2022 recorded the same magnitude as today’s earthquake.

Why was it so dangerous?

The East Anatolian Fault is a seismic line that is a break in rocks that leads to seismic slides whereby solid rock slabs jostle along the vertical fault line, increasing pressures until one of them finally slips in a movement that releases a huge amount of energy that can cause An earthquake occurs.

The San Andreas Fault in California is perhaps the most famous of these faults in the world, and scientists have long warned of the possibility of a catastrophic earthquake there.

The Turkish-Syrian earthquake started at a relatively shallow depth.

David Rothery, a planetary geologist at Britain’s Open University, said: “The shaking at the Earth’s surface may have been more intense than the impact of an earthquake at a deeper level of the same strength at the source.”

What type of aftershocks can be expected?

Eleven minutes after the first quake, the region was hit by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock. A 7.5-magnitude quake occurred hours later, followed by another 6-magnitude tremor in the afternoon.

“What we’re seeing now is that the activity spills over into adjacent fissures,” Mawson said. “We expect the earthquakes to continue for some time.”

What might the final death toll be?

Earthquakes of similar magnitude in populated areas have killed thousands. Nepal’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 2015 claimed nearly 9,000 lives.

“It’s not going to be good… (the victims) will be in the thousands, maybe in the tens of thousands,” Mawson said.

He added that the cold winter weather meant that those trapped under the rubble had fewer chances of survival.

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