US Seismologist warns of Deadly Kashmir Quake

By: Arif Shafi Wani
Srinagar, Dec 9: A study by a prominent US based seismologist has warned that Kashmir Valley is likely to be hit by an earthquake of largest ever magnitude. But the study does not specify any particular time-frame.
However, the Kashmir based experts recommend the state government to undertake micro-seismic zoning in the Valley to minimize loss of human lives in case of any such eventuality.
The study conducted by Roger Bilham, a seismologist and professor of Geology at the University of Colorado at Boulder US, states that the major quake with magnitude 9 is likely to trigger landslides that would dam the Jhelum river, which drains from the Kashmir Valley into Pakistan.
“That could put the Kashmir Valley under water within three months – and would also threaten disastrous flooding in Pakistan if the waters were released too quickly. The two nations should develop a cooperative plan to deal with the aftermath of a Kashmir mega-quake,” Prof Bilham states in the study.
Prof Bilham states that his new Global Positioning System (GPS) data readings revealing the gradual movement of rocks in the Zanskar Mountains north of the Kashmir Valley show that earlier estimates of the maximum possible quake in the region were too low.
“In this region, the Indian plate is slowly burrowing under the Tibetan plateau. Studies on where the relative movement of the Tibetan plateau was slowest, indicates where compression is building up, and a rupture is eventually likely to occur. I expected this to be in the Pir Panchal range, to the south of the Kashmir Valley, but instead it was in the Zanskar range to the north.”
“This means that the zone likely to rupture when a quake eventually happens could be 200 kilometres wide, rather than about 80 kilometres, as was previously thought. The zone would encompass the Kashmir Valley – including the city of Srinagar, home to some 1.5 million people. If slippage occurs over a length of 300 kilometres, as is possible, a mega-quake of magnitude 9 is the likely result. Given building codes and population in the region, that could mean a death toll of 300,000 people,” the study states.
Pertinently the 9-magnitude earthquake which hit Japan on May 11 this year devastated the country.
Bilham points out in the study that seismologists have been caught out by recent mega-quakes, including the 9-magnitude Tohoku quake that hit Japan in March, by basing their estimates on historical patterns, rather than physical measurements. “I think you have to plan for the worst case,” he says.
Bilham revealed his findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week.
Prof Muhammad Ismail Bhat, former Head Department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Kashmir said the earthquake of 9 magnitude can be catastrophic for the Valley.
“We have seen the impact of 7.6 magnitude earthquake in 2005. According to the study, a new fault has been identified in Simthan and Shopian side. It is an active fault. The problem is that we don’t have the relevant data to identify the earthquake vulnerable zones. It is high time for undertaking micro-seismic zoning across the Valley to identity the places which are vulnerable to earthquakes,” Prof Bhat said.
Prof Shakeel Romshoo, Associate Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics, however, said there is no mechanism to predict earthquakes. “But it is a known fact that Himalayas in Kashmir are tectonically active and highly vulnerable to earthquakes,” he opines.
Kashmir is placed in seismic zone five, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes. Incidentally, the Valley was hit by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir causing massive destruction of life and property in the affected areas.
In August this year, five tremors of moderate intensity were recorded in the Valley with one of them having its epicentre in Jammu and Kashmir. The earthquakes occurred from August 19 to 23 with magnitude ranging between 4.8 to 5.1.
Prof Bilham who has been studying the earthquakes in Himalayan region for past 20 years, had visited Kashmir in 2007 along with Dr Susan Hough of US Geological Survey, Pasadena California.
They had interacted with experts here and recommend many measures including identifying locations of future earthquakes, research effects of historical earthquakes, determine their recurrence intervals and educate common masses and people associated with construction about measures to limit losses and save lives.
However, most of the recommendations are yet to be implemented. “We don’t have funds to implement the recommendations or undertake more research on earthquakes in Kashmir. The Government only act when a disaster strikes. Till then it is in a slumber putting the lives and property of people at risk,” said a senior seismic expert of the Valley wishing anonymity.
“The State Government is not prepared to deal with any eventuality arising out the earthquakes. It is high time for the concerned authorities to take the study seriously and gear up to meet any eventuality,” he said.
When contacted officials associated with Disaster Management Cell of Kashmir refused to comment on the issue.


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