NEW DELHI: The world is in the middle of a 15-year intense seismic activity period that could last until 2020, leaving open the strong possibility of a strong earthquake occurring somewhere on the planet, possibly in the Central Himalayas. While there is no way to predict an earthquake or its intensity, just sampling seismic data over the past 150 years points to the possibility of a huge quake shaking up the area over the next few years, says RK Chadha, chief scientist at the National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad. “There are periods of intense seismic activity with high-magnitude earthquakes for near 15 years followed by a quietened inter-seismic activity over next 30-40 years,” Chadha told ET. “The third cycle started in 2004 with the Sumatra earthquake and we expect this to last until 2018-20… there is a high probability of a great earthquake of 9 magnitude up and this could be anywhere in the world, including in the Himalayas.” There are indicators that considerable stress is building up in certain segments of the Himalayan range. “This high strain is locked in parts of Himalayas, ranging from near Himachal Pradesh towards the west of Nepal. However, even plate movement and convergence is a very slow process so we can never say when such an earthquake will exactly occur — now or 10 years later,” Chadha added. Kusala Rajendran, associate professor at the Centre for Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, who has extensively researched earthquake patterns in India, points to the central segment of the Himalayas as an area of stress build up. “For a long time, researchers have been suggesting that the central segment of the Himalaya is long overdue for a great earthquake. This is because the strain is building up, but it has not been released in earthquakes since the 1950 Assam earthquake… What has ruptured now is only about 200 km or so,” she said in response to ET’s queries over e-mail. The area on the western side of Nepal would find release in a quake sooner or later, said PR Baidya, a scientist at the Centre for Seismology at the India Meteorological Department. This is a view that Ajay Paul, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, agrees with. “There is a seismic gap as far as the western side of Uttarkhand and Nepal region is concerned. With energy having got released in the eastern side with the Nepal quake, it is quite possible that there may be an quake of great magnitude on the other side of what is clearly a high-risk seismic zone,” Paul told ET over the phone. Seismologists are not concerned about the increased industrial activity disturbing the Himalayan ecology, except for the impact after an earthquake. “It is the built environment that is the problem. The way to solve this problem is with improved construction. It is obviously not an easy solution when many people struggle with day-to-day needs, but the world community can do better,” Susan Hough, seismologist at the Earthquake Hazard Centre of the US Geological Survey, told ET over e-mail.
Asmaa Mubita is a Kenyan journalist of international repute with over fifteen years of experience in broadcast journalism. Asmaa Mubita began his journalism career at the Kenyan state broadcaster (KBC) and later worked at the KTN owned by the Standard Group and Citizen Television, the flagship brand of Royal Media Services. These exploits together with his reporting experience with the Voice of America, CNN and BBC have been rewarded with local and global recognition.