Mega Quake

Environment – A year ago today (Mar 11, 2011), Japan was rocked by both a massive earthquake and giant tsunami that claimed the lives of roughly 20,000 people. Some experts have called this tsunami a “mega-tsunami” and are now speculating on the whereabouts of the next big disaster.

Experts have found 6 regions throughout the world that have similar geological features to the Japanese natural disaster: Northwest North America, the Eastern Mediterranean, Peru, the Caribbean, Indonesia, and Turkey.

The North Anatolian Fault in Turkey has been causing tremors and quakes since 1939, and is now known as the most dangerous faultline in the area. A little over a decade ago, 17,000 people were killed in Izmit due to an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4, which also produced a small (and nearly harmless) tsunami in 3 of the surrounding seas. The next earthquake to hit Turkey may create a tsunami directly in front of Istanbul, which is home to millions and does not have substantial buildings to withstand the quake nor tsunami.

Back in 2004, Indonesia was ravaged by a tsunami created from an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, and then again in 2005. Unfortunately, the Sunda subduction zone still holds tension near Sumatra, which has not seen a major quake since 1833. The remaining stress in this zone holds the potential to release a more devasting quake than 2004, 2005, or 1833.

Similar to the tropical paradise of Idonesia, the Caribbean also has a scattered history of quakes, albeit slightly smaller in magnitude. Haiti is still trying to recover from the destruction of its 2010 quake measuring 7.0, and in 1867, the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit by a 7.5. Although neither of these quakes produced a massive tsunami that destroyed land, the major fear appears to be the threat of a tsunami on the many cruise ships throughout the area.

Staying in the tropical realms, Peru in South America also has prime geolocigal conditions for a massive earthquake and tsunami. Just offshore is a subduction zone similar to Indonesia, which has been responsible for Lima’s destruction three times since the Spanish conquest in 1543.

Moving far north from Peru, we enter North America where the Cascadia subduction zone “which stretches offshore from Northern California to Canada and includes Oregon’s Devil’s Elbow State Park.” By analyzing growth rings in trees, researchers have found that the last major earthquake was near 1700, and they fear that these subduction zones must release the tension every few hundred years.

The final potential hotspot for a “mega-quake” or “mega-tsunami” is back in the Mediterranean and is called “the Hellenic arc, a trench running through the eastern Mediterranean south of Greece and Turkey.” Historically, this zone has seen 2 major quakes, both exceeding 8.5 and yielding massive tsunamis, but those were back in 365 and 1303.

Read more at National Geographic.