Himalayan Earthquakes and the Urgent Need for Preparedness
Himalayan Earthquakes

In recent times, northern India, particularly Delhi-NCR, has experienced a series of unsettling events. A significant jolt, measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale, shook the region, making it the second earthquake in just three days and the third within a month. This seismic activity has once again brought to the forefront discussions about the looming threat of a mega Himalayan earthquake. The scientific community has consistently sounded the alarm, warning that a massive earthquake, potentially exceeding a staggering magnitude of 8.5, is looming over the Himalayan region.

The Alarming Historical Context

Himalayan Earthquakes

In 2018, a study led by Indian seismologists emphasized that the central Himalayas, stretching from Uttarakhand to western Nepal, could be hit by a devastating earthquake “anytime in the future.” These researchers, hailing from the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, drew comparisons to previous catastrophic earthquakes.

For instance, the 2015 Nepal earthquake, which claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people, measured a devastating 8.1 on the Richter scale. Similarly, the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, resulting in over 13,000 fatalities, registered at a formidable 7.7 magnitude. These seismic events serve as stark reminders of the region’s vulnerability to catastrophic earthquakes.

Insights from Geological Data

The analysis conducted in this study relies on geological data and maps from the Geological Survey of India, Google Earth imagery, and satellite data from India’s space agency, ISRO. This rich source of information provides crucial insights into the geological factors at play.

Research has indicated that a catastrophic earthquake, estimated to be between magnitudes 8.5 and 9, struck the central Himalayas between the 14th and 15th centuries. This historical earthquake caused a 600-kilometer parcel of land to rupture. Despite the occurrence of frequent low-intensity earthquakes in the central Himalayan region, there has been a noticeable absence of major seismic activity for several centuries. This dearth of significant tremors suggests a significant buildup of strain in the region, raising concerns that a major earthquake is long overdue.

The Tectonic Time Bomb

It’s essential to note that the recent earthquake in Nepal, despite being predicted by seismologists, left experts surprised. The Himalayan region rests on the tectonically active boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the Indian Plate, making it a hotspot for seismic activity. Seismologists have long argued that minor earthquakes should not be dismissed as routine events but rather seen as indicators of a looming major earthquake.

Urgent Calls for Preparedness

In 2017, a group of scientists convened a two-day workshop in Dehradun to discuss the impending seismic threat. They urged the Uttarakhand government to fortify the state’s infrastructure to withstand earthquakes. Additionally, a study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Geological Sciences in 2016 warned that the 2015 Nepal earthquake failed to release the pent-up strain in the central Himalayas.

This accumulated stress, building up over centuries, is expected to be released through a major earthquake, potentially causing unprecedented destruction and loss of life. Consequently, scientists are fervently calling for immediate action to mitigate the potential devastation.

Continuous Monitoring and Vigilance

While predicting earthquakes with pinpoint accuracy remains a challenge, experts are ceaselessly engaged in analyzing tectonic movements and the gradual release of pressure from beneath the Earth’s surface. These efforts are crucial in our ongoing quest to better understand and prepare for the inevitable seismic events that threaten the Himalayan region.