Understanding the Causes of Devastating Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

Understanding the Causes of Devastating Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

The Turkish-Syrian border region experienced a series of powerful earthquakes on February 6th, including two major quakes of 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude. These earthquakes resulted in a humanitarian and economic crisis, with thousands of reported deaths and many missing.

To understand why this region is prone to such devastating earthquakes, it’s crucial to examine the tectonic plates below the surface. Tectonic plates are massive slabs of rock on the Earth’s crust, ranging from 10 miles to 160 miles thick, that constantly move.

Earth can be divided into several large plates that shift around each other, and earthquakes usually occur at the boundaries between these plates.

The Anatolia tectonic plate, also known as the Anatolian microplate, is located in the region and plays a significant role in the earthquakes. The Anatolia plate is under constant pressure, as it’s being pushed upward against the Eurasia plate by the Arabia plate and squeezed westward by the Africa plate.

This pressure creates a unique type of earthquake, called a strike-slip earthquake, at the boundaries between the Anatolia plate and the Africa and Arabia plates.

In a strike-slip earthquake, the boundaries between the plates try to slide against each other as the plates move in different directions. The friction builds up until it becomes too much, and the plates slip, releasing all the accumulated strain in a large earthquake.

This is what happened in Gaziantep, resulting in the 7.8 magnitude quake, and in Ekinozu, causing the 7.5 magnitude quake. The USGS reports that the strike slip occurred along approximately 100 miles of the fault, which is shorter than most strike-slip earthquakes.

This region is complicated because four different plates interact, leading to complex tectonics and a long history of devastating earthquakes. For example, the North Anatolian Fault produced seven large strike-slip earthquakes from 1939 to 1999 and three earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger have occurred within 155 miles of the February 6th earthquakes since 1970.

The last large earthquake in the region occurred in 1999, and USGS reports that the region was overdue for another large earthquake.

The 1999 quake was a 7.4 magnitude and resulted in an estimated 17,000 deaths. USGS estimates that the recent earthquakes could result in billions in economic losses. It’s not a question of if there will be another earthquake in the region but when, due to the convergence of the three plates.

While experts aren’t sure if the two recent earthquakes will trigger a third, they note that it could put extra strain on nearby faults or relieve some of the strain. It will take time to determine if further earthquakes are more or less likely in the region.

The Turkish-Syrian border region is vulnerable to devastating earthquakes due to the complex tectonics resulting from the convergence of four tectonic plates. The recent 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude quakes serve as a reminder of the need for continued monitoring and preparedness in the region.