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Experts saw Nepal quake coming

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By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
@DFLCMartins
Monday, April 27, 2015, 5:41 PM

Scientists predicted just a few weeks ago that a big quake was brewing for Nepal after recently finding new data, and more quakes are still possible.

Saturday’s 7.8 earthquake follows a roughly 80-year recurrence pattern the researchers uncovered from previous quakes, presenting their findings just three weeks before the latest quake. And some geophysicists say there may be more to come.

“Early calculations suggest that Saturday's Magnitude-7.8 earthquake is probably not big enough to rupture all the way to the surface,” Laurent Bollinger, a researcher-engineer at France’s CEA agency, told the BBC. “So there is still likely to be more strain stored, and we should probably expect another big earthquake to the west and south of this one in the coming decades.”

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The recent tremor was responsible for at least 3,900 deaths, along with thousands of injuries. In the days since it struck, aftershocks have occasionally rocked the region, the strongest of which registered a magnitude of 6.7 Sunday.

Tectonically, Nepal sits along the boundary of the Indian plate where it is crashing into the Eurasian plate, a collision that has been ongoing for millions of years and which is responsible for raising up the Himalayas, including Mount Everest.

Bollinger’s team looked back at two quakes in the region, in 1255 and 1344, digging into the soil along the fault to look at evidence of past tectonic movements.

After the 1255 quake, the strain built up over the following 89 years in a neighbouring section of the fault, until a new quake was triggered in 1344.

Those aren’t the only quakes in Nepalese history, but the researchers identified similar circumstances after a quake in 1934, 81 years ago. That tremor also devastated the country, killing more than 10,000 people.

The latest quake arrived in roughly the same timeframe as the historic duo and weeks after Bollinger and his team presented their findings at the Nepal Geological Society.

“We could see that both Kathmandu and [the nearby city of] Pokhara would now be particularly exposed to earthquakes rupturing the main fault, where it likely last did in 1344, between the two cities,” Paul Tapponnier, a colleague of Bollinger’s from the Earth Observatory of Singapore, told the BBC.

It's actually been quite the week for earthquakes. A Magnitude 5.5 quake struck off the coast of California Thursday, while Friday brought an M5.9 quake to New Zealand and an M6.2 tremor to the B.C. coast near Bella Bella.

As for whether Nepal's quake could trigger quakes elsewhere in the world, Dalhousie University seismologist Alan Ruffman says that's complicated.

“The answer is by no means clear except for a continental plate fragment and the related faults that are very close by,” Ruffman told The Weather Network. 

The earth’s crust could possibly transmit tension over hundreds of kilometres, Ruffman said, but “the jury is still out" on whether it can do so over thousands.

“No one is ever going to feel comfortable saying ‘Ah-ha, a big earthquake in Nepal -- expect a big one in Alaska,’” Ruffman said. “There may well be a big one in Alaska, but it could just as easily be in Peru. Do not risk a bet on this topic as yet.”

With files from Kevin Karanjia

SOURCES: BBC | International Business Times

How you can help

  • UNICEF Canada is asking for donations to help those affected in Nepal. "An earthquake of this size can be deadly, toppling buildings and destroying roads and infrastructure," President and CEO David Morley said in a statement. "We are keeping our promise to Nepal's children to always be there for them—in this emergency and every day." Click here to make a donation.
  • The Canadian Red Cross set up a page where people can make personal donations or donations on behalf of organization.
  • Nepalese Canadian Community Services has a donation page.
  • Plan Canada is a charity that has worked in Nepal since 1978. The group has been providing life-saving emergency assistance to those affected. Click here to make a donation.
  • Google's crisis response team launched a person finder for the incident where people can submit information available on people in the area as well as search for information made available by people in the area.
  • Red Cross also set up a people finder to help those searching for affected by the quake.
  • Canada will match dollar-for-dollar all eligible contributions to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund until May 25.

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