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Turkey earthquake: Where did it hit and why was it so deadly?

Turkey Earthquake

By Shafeena NawasPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
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A devastating earthquake hit southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border early on Monday morning, killing tens of thousands of people and injuring many more. The earthquake occurred close to the town of Gaziantep, and there were numerous aftershocks following the first quake, one of which was almost as large as the first. The earthquake registered 7.8 on the official magnitude scale, making it a "major" earthquake. Professor Joanna Faure Walker, head of the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London, explains that only two of the deadliest earthquakes in any given year in the last decade have been of equivalent magnitude, and four in the previous decade.

While the power of the tremor was undoubtedly a major factor in the devastation caused, it was not the only one. The earthquake occurred in the early hours of the morning when people were inside and sleeping, and the sturdiness of the buildings also played a crucial role. Dr. Carmen Solana, a reader in volcanology and risk communication at the University of Portsmouth, notes that resistant infrastructure is unfortunately patchy in South Turkey and especially Syria, so saving lives now mostly relies on response. The next 24 hours are critical to find survivors, as after 48 hours, the number of survivors decreases enormously.

The region where the earthquake occurred had not experienced a major earthquake for over 200 years, and there were no warning signs, so the level of preparedness was less than for a region that was more accustomed to dealing with tremors. The earthquake broke along about 100km of fault line, causing serious damage to buildings near the fault.

The Earth's crust is made up of separate plates that nestle alongside each other. These plates often try to move but are prevented by the friction of rubbing up against an adjoining one. However, sometimes the pressure builds until one plate suddenly jerks across, causing the surface to move. In this case, it was the Arabian plate moving northwards and grinding against the Anatolian plate. Friction from the plates has been responsible for very damaging earthquakes in the past. For example, on 13 August 1822, an earthquake registering 7.4 in magnitude caused immense damage to towns in the area, with 7,000 deaths recorded in the city of Aleppo alone. There were also damaging aftershocks that continued for nearly a year. There have already been several aftershocks following the current earthquake, and scientists are expecting it to follow the same trend as the previous big one in the region.

Earthquakes are measured on the Moment Magnitude Scale (Mw), which has replaced the Richter scale, now considered outdated and less accurate. The number attributed to an earthquake represents a combination of the distance the fault line has moved and the force that moved it. A tremor of 2.5 or less usually cannot be felt, but can be detected by instruments. Quakes of up to five are felt and cause minor damage. The Turkish earthquake at 7.8 is classified as major and usually causes serious damage, as it has in this instance. Anything above 8 causes catastrophic damage and can totally destroy communities at its center.

Comparing the Turkish earthquake with other large earthquakes, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Indonesia on 26 December 2004, triggering a tsunami that swept away entire communities around the Indian Ocean. The 9.1 magnitude quake killed about 228,000 people. Another earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011 registered as magnitude 9 and caused widespread damage on the land and a tsunami. It led to a major accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant along the coast. The largest ever earthquake registered 9.5, and was recorded in Chile in 1960.

To dealing with tremors. The cause of the earthquake can be traced back to the Earth's crust, which is made up of separate plates that nestle alongside each other. These plates often try to move but are prevented by the friction of rubbing up against an adjoining one. However, sometimes the pressure builds up until one plate suddenly jerks across, causing the surface to move. In this case, it was the Arabian plate moving northwards and grinding against the Anatolian plate. Friction from the plates has been responsible for very damaging earthquakes in the past. For instance, on August 13, 1822, an earthquake registering 7.4 in magnitude caused immense damage to towns in the area, with 7,000 deaths recorded in the city of Aleppo alone. Damaging aftershocks continued for almost a year.

In the current earthquake, there have already been several aftershocks, and scientists are expecting it to follow the same trend as the previous big one in the region. Earthquakes are measured on a scale called the Moment Magnitude Scale (Mw), which has replaced the outdated and less accurate Richter scale. The number attributed to an earthquake represents a combination of the distance the fault line has moved and the force that moved it. A tremor of 2.5 or less usually cannot be felt, but can be detected by instruments. Quakes of up to five are felt and cause minor damage. The Turkish earthquake at 7.8 is classified as major and usually causes serious damage, as it has in this instance. Anything above 8 causes catastrophic damage and can totally destroy communities at its center.

To put things into perspective, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded was on December 26, 2004, when a 9.1 magnitude quake struck off the coast of Indonesia, triggering a tsunami that swept away entire communities around the Indian Ocean, killing about 228,000 people. Another earthquake that registered a magnitude of 9 hit off the coast of Japan in 2011, causing widespread damage on the land and a tsunami that led to a major accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant along the coast. The largest earthquake ever recorded registered 9.5 and occurred in Chile in 1960.

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Shafeena Nawas

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