Thinking Aloud: The Roof of the World’s Shaky Foundation

Apr. 27, 2015 by Darius 

The massive earthquake that hit Nepal two days ago has caused at least 3800 deaths thus far and displaced tens of thousands more.  But this is just the most recent in a long line of catastrophic earthquakes to hit this area.

Nepal and the entire surrounding region is seismically active due to the movement of the Indian tectonic plate.  Effectively, India has been crashing into the rest of Asia for the last several million years, resulting in, among other things, the Himalayas.  (See map below, courtesy of the US Geological Survey.)

Indian subcontinent movement

For this reason, Nepal’s neighborhood has experienced a lot of deadly earthquakes throughout history.  Here’s a look at a few of them:

  • In 1556, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit Shaanxi Province in central China. The earthquake supposedly killed 830,000 people, 60% of the population of the province, and devastated an area of hundreds of square miles.  This earthquake is thought to be the deadliest of all time.
  • In 1786, an earthquake of an estimated magnitude of 7.75 on the Richter scale (which is logarithmic; a 7.0 quake is 10 times the power of a 6.0) struck Szechuan Province in south-central China. Only a few hundred people died in the earthquake itself; however, the earthquake created an earthen dam across the Dadu River.  Several days later, the dam burst, and an estimated 100,000 people died from the resulting floods.
  • In 1935, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.8 leveled Quetta, Balochistan, in modern Pakistan, killing between 30,000 and 60,000 people.
  • In 2005, an earthquake, estimated magnitude 7.6, struck Kashmir in India, killing more than 85,000 people.
  • In 2008, nearly 70,000 people died when an earthquake again hit China’s Szechuan Province.

Unfortunately, earthquakes like the one that hit Nepal this week have happened all too often and will continue to happen.  It serves as a lethal reminder that the Earth is still more powerful than we are.

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