Srinagar: Over the past 30 days, Kashmir has experienced about 17 tremors, five of which were magnitude 4.0 or greater, ten between 3.0 and 4.0 and two between 2.0 and 3.0.
These recurring rattles have forced seismologists to believe that Kashmir should prepare for a major earthquake in the future.
“I would say the tremors in Kashmir are the warning signal for us to worry about the arrival of a major earthquake and prepare the ground to deal with it,” said Dr Afroz Ahmed Shah, a Earth science expert.
Since Kashmir falls in earthquake zone 5, Dr Afroz says one of the most critical elements of preparedness is the construction of earthquake-resistant structures.
“We should first create a culture where earthquake education should be at the heart of our daily routine because we live on faultlines and know what it means,” said Dr Shah, who teaches science physics and geology at the University of Brunei Darussalam.
“Flaws can be activated at any time, so please start working on it before it’s too late.”
A regular in understanding the region’s fragile terrain, Dr Shah in an interview with the Kashmir Observer talked about the reasons for the frequent tremors and what it means for Kashmir.
Why are we suddenly facing so many earthquakes in Kashmir?
Earthquakes in Kashmir are no surprise and are expected as we live above active fault lines. However, to know exactly where recent earthquakes have occurred, we must first map and understand the depth of the faults.
I did this by looking at the vertical distribution of earthquakes beneath Kashmir in the following figure.
It appears that the earthquakes originate from shallow depths, suggesting the rupture of internal faults in the Kashmir Basin, such as the Kashmir Basin Fault.
The colored dots are seismic events, which mainly originated between 0 and 40 km depth under the Kashmir Basin. The white rectangular area shows the cross-section of seismic events to show their vertical positions and depth.
It looks like we are on a routine of how active deformation manifests in a tectonically active zone.
Has natural seismic activity increased at an alarming rate in Kashmir?
The figure above covers seismic events from 1980 to 2022, and if we use that as a baseline, it’s safe to say that earthquakes occur continuously in this region, and I don’t see any drastic change.
The data shows that the earthquakes are a normal consequence of the ongoing deformation in the Kashmir region.
But we haven’t had any large magnitude earthquakes for a long time. Does this mean that the pressure is mounting for a big guy?
Yes, indeed, the large magnitude earthquake has not occurred in the area for some time. The following figure from Roger Bilham suggests that the region could host a large magnitude earthquake in the future.
The black patches have witnessed significant earthquakes in the past, and the gaps are potential areas that could rupture in the future. Kashmir has a record of earthquakes in 1555 and 1885. We are now in the interseismic cycle, which means that stress is stored in the rocks in the form of deformation, which can rupture the fault system at any time.
Although we don’t know when, but we know it will happen, and we don’t wish to see what happened to Muzaffarabad in the earthquake of 2005. We lost over 85,000 people and property worth Billions.
Therefore, we must work on preparations for the worst possibility. We can’t stop the rifts from slipping; what we could do is live with earthquake risk in our backyard. Prepare for any eventuality.
Do we lack a proper mechanism in Kashmir that can help us know the earthquake in advance?
Predicting an earthquake is not possible because science has not yet succeeded. However, forecasts are regularly made and this knowledge suggests that Kashmir might see a major earthquake in the future.
Therefore, we must help people to build a society ready to live with seismic risks.
I am not aware of any locally produced seismic data recorded by scientific institutes in the Kashmir region. Usually, these capacities should be found within the institutes that organize Earth science courses and research.
Therefore, we need our seismographic network, which could measure ground shaking locally.
What can be deduced from these regular tremors?
The cause of active faulting in Kashmir is related to the continuous convergence of lithospheric plates between India and Eurasia, which formed the mighty Himalayas in the collision journey, and the Kashmir Basin in the recent past.
Therefore, seismic events are expected in the region as they are required to release the accumulation stress in the rocks.
We need to map seismic hazards in detail, train people on how to live with faults, and start working on the ground on what to do to minimize potential damage during earthquakes.
I would say that earthquakes in Kashmir are the wake-up call for us to worry about the arrival of a major earthquake and prepare the ground to deal with it.
Since we know that Kashmir falls in seismic zone 5, what precautions can people take to minimize losses?
One of the most critical elements of this preparation is the construction of earthquake-resistant structures. We must first create a culture where earthquake education should be at the heart of our daily routine because we live on flaws and know what it means. Flaws can be activated at any time, so please start working on it before it’s too late.
We must all learn from the awful memories of the 2005 Muzaffarabad earthquake in Kashmir. No one would like to see such a situation unfold in this part of Kashmir.
Therefore, let us work now and build Kashmir from the ruins of the past to the glory of the future; this can be possible if we follow the three-step approach:
First: Extensive work on building a culture of earth science education in the Jammu and Kashmir region with a focus on risk. This should be done from the elementary level so that our children know how the planet Earth works and why earthquakes, floods and landslides occur. It will strengthen their foundations, and they could not easily be drawn into and immersed in a sea of distractions and confusions based on unscientific talk that regularly surfaces on social media, the internet, etc.
Second: The need to develop Kashmir as a hub of high quality scientific research in Earth sciences will directly confront the unscientific culture that unfortunately prevails in our societies. We know that education is the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe, and those who remain aloof or isolated from the light of wisdom are easily tamed into believing the unscientific talk of the market. It is therefore our responsibility to build this culture where scientific insight becomes our weapon to unlock the unanswered questions on planet Earth. This includes hazards, climate change, global warming, etc.
The third: Earthquake scientists, engineers and other responsible members of civil society should engage with local government and develop a policy document that will highlight the science of earthquakes and what to do to avoid future challenges related to seismic events in the region. The administration should produce an official document containing information and advice on building codes. These codes are essentially instructions on the design, construction and modification of buildings in an area prone to seismic risk. It must be implemented immediately. We are already too late for that, and it puts the lives of millions of people at risk.
As an expert, what do you offer?
I have suggested in the past, and I still do, that Jammu and Kashmir should establish a high quality research institution that will help us produce primary data on the science of earthquakes, landslides , floods, etc. It should professionally train, recruit and hire locals to improve the research capacity of the region and make it the best institute in the world.
We have a massive army of young students ready to make an impact, but they have nowhere to work in Kashmir, where it is badly needed.
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