ISRAEL EXPECTING DEADLY EARTHQUAKES
By: Sarah Chemla
Photo: NASA/Tel Aviv University/TJP
A destructive earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale is expected to hit Israel and its surrounding neighbors in the coming years, causing hundreds of deaths, a new study led by researchers from Tel Aviv University has found.
For the study, carried out under the auspices of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) and published in the Science Advances journal, a rig was placed in 2010 in the center of the Dead Sea, which began drilling to a depth of hundreds of meters, enabling an analysis of some 220,000 years of Dead-Sea geology by studying the seabed.
The researchers revealed a cyclical pattern, since such devastating earthquakes seem to be hitting the region every 130 to 150 years – but there have been cases in history where the period of time between one earthquake and another was only a few decades long.
According to Prof. Shmuel Marco, head of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, because the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, the flood waters that flow into the Dead Sea every winter carry with them sediment that stratifies at the bottom of the lake into different layers, with every two layers representing a different year.
As soon as an earthquake occurs, the sediments swirl together, with the layers that had previously settled in perfect sequence blending into one another and resettling in a different arrangement.
The researchers developed specific equations and computational models to analyze these findings and were then able to both understand the physics of the process and to reconstruct from the geological record the history of earthquakes over time, highlighting that their frequency in the Dead Sea valley is not fixed over time.
In the wake of these findings – and given that the last one that hit the region was 93 years ago – the researchers predict that another earthquake should hit the region in the near future: in the coming years or decades, they said.
The last earthquake of such magnitude was felt in the Dead Sea valley in 1927, causing injuries to hundreds of people and damage to several main cities, including Jordan’s capital Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jaffa.
“According to the latest earthquake, which is the best indicator we have, about 250 people were killed in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Amman and Jericho,” Marco said.
“So if we compare it to the number of people inhabiting these cities today, 100 years later, the population has grown by about two to three times,” he said. “This means the number of casualties will be two to three times as much, not to mention the massive damages to infrastructure and property.
“I don’t want to cause alarm,” concluded Marco, “but we are living in a tectonically active period. The geological record does not lie – and a major earthquake in Israel will come. Of course, we have no way of predicting exactly when the earth will shake under our feet – this is a statistical projection – but unfortunately, I can say that an earthquake that will cause hundreds of casualties will hit in the coming years.
“It could be in ten years or in several decades – but it could also be next week,” he warned, “and we need to constantly be prepared for that.”
The research was carried out by an international team of researchers, including Marco and his fellow researchers Dr. Yin Lu (postdoc at TAU), Prof. Amotz Agnon (Hebrew University), Dr. Nicolas Waldmann (Haifa University), Dr. Nadav Wetzler (Israel Geological Survey) and Dr. Glenn Biasi (US Geological Survey).