New “fault system” with potential to cause damaging earthquakes in Nepal identified

14 July 2020 I A team of researchers have discovered “a new fault system” in southeastern Nepal that could cause “catastrophic” earthquake in a densely populated region of the Himalayan nation.

The warning, based on research findings by multinational university experts, does not come with a probable timeline by which Mother Nature could strike. However, they do warn a catastrophic earthquake is a potential hazard for southeast Nepal.

According to a news release by Lancaster University, which was part of the study, there have not been any earthquakes recorded in the area since accurate scientific records began about a century ago but the results of the research suggest a strong potential for earthquakes.

The participating academics based their study on seismic imaging of “the top few kilometres of the Earth’s crust”.

“We discovered a series of faults at the foot of the Himalayan mountain range that have never been seen before. These faults indicate that the front of movement in the Himalayan mountain belt is not at the foot of the mountains as previously thought but rather 40 kilometres south in the Ganga Plain, which is being pushed southward by the Himalaya,” Professor John Waldron from the University of Alberta who co-authored a new research explained.

Nepal Army
In this unrelated Facebook photo, a Nepal Army helicopter lands at a remote location during 2015 earthquake relief and rescue operations.

“Along the front of the mountains in Nepal are thrust faults, formed where the Indian subcontinent is being pushed underneath Asia,” Prof Waldron further added, “The movement is jerky, which produces earthquakes. Because this is a densely populated part of the world, these earthquakes can be catastrophic.”

In 2015, a 7.8 magnitude temblor killed nearly 9,000 people in Nepal and injured tens of thousands others.

What may come as a sigh of relief to the Government of Nepal, the newly identified faults are not in Kathmandu city which is, to utter dismay of many seismologists, is known for its poor planning and preparedness.

The potential earthquake-prone areas identified by the researchers is still a densely populated part of the mountain nation which can be catastrophic in case of a major earthquake.

“We have now discovered that a substantial part of this area has an almost horizontal fault underneath it, which has the potential to slip and cause a damaging earthquake,” Prof. Waldron said.

The paper, ‘Active strike-slip faults and an outer frontal thrust in the Himalayan foreland Basin’, was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The lead author is Mike Duvall from the University of Alberta.

The research suggests an important avenue for future research among seismologists to better understand this newly identified hazard in the Himalaya.

Dr Yani Najman I University of Lancaster News

Co-author of the Study was Dr Yani Najman of the Lancaster Environment Centre. She initiated the study and has in-depth knowledge of the sedimentary rocks imaged by the seismic data.

She said: “I’m particularly pleased to see integration of work between Industry and Academia result in data used not to only for economic development, but also for societal good.”

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