Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nepal Quake Less Severe Than Anticipated? New Studies Explain

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nepal Quake Less Severe Than Anticipated? New Studies Explain

Article excerpt

The magnitude-8 earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015 was deadly - but it could easily have been worse, say experts.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, researchers used a wealth of new data to assess the damage, and according to their results, the effects were actually less catastrophic than initially feared. Findings were published Tuesday in a special issue of Seismological Research Letters.

Seismologist Susan Hough had seen devastation before. When a magnitude-7 quake slammed Port-au-Prince in 2010, she led the US Geological Survey team dispatched to improve seismic monitoring in Haiti. The death toll for that earthquake fell somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000.

By many accounts, the Kathmandu quake should have been even worse. It was more severe, and its epicenter was just below central Nepal. Experts worried that the dense pastiches of construction in the valley would be especially susceptible to high-magnitude earthquakes. But in the end, Nepal's people (and infrastructure) fared better than Haiti's - but that doesn't mean they emerged unscathed.

"It's important to remember that 9,000 people were killed, and many more left homeless - in a poor country, where safety nets are few and far between," Dr. Hough says. "People in some of the remote villages are facing enormous hardships. But if the effects had been in keeping with expectations, the numbers could have been magnified by a factor of 10 or more. The difference between Port-au-Prince in 2010 and Kathmandu in 2015 was night and day."

Why?

A lack of practical data may have inflated initial damage projections. Large earthquakes are rare, so seismologists must either run computer models or scale up the effects of smaller earthquakes.

"Unfortunately, some of the limited data that do exist are not being made freely available - for example, in neighboring big countries that are not exactly good citizens when it comes to sharing geophysical data," Hough says. "One of the absolute requirements for papers in the special issue was that data sets had to be freely available."

When the quake in Nepal hit, researchers had a rare opportunity to collect real-time information from a wide variety of sources: seismic data, satellite imagery, newspaper accounts, and smartphone apps. …

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