A string of earthquakes have recently been in the process of devastating the nation of Nepal. This sample geological research paper from Ultius will provide an in depth look at not only the aftermath of these quakes, but attempt to surmise the cause of them as well.
Earthquakes ravage Nepal
An earthquake occurred in Nepal occurred on the 25th of April, 2015. According to Robertson and Koontz, the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale, and it
“occurred as the result of thrust faulting on or near the main thrust interface between the subducting India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north, at a distance of approximately 80 km to the northwest of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu” (paragraph 1).
In essence, one of the tectonic plates that compose the substratum of the earth’s geology slid over another plate in a quite volatile way, which resulted in the land at the surface breaking apart. This is, in general, the basic cause of an earthquake. It is estimated that about 8,000 people died in the initial earthquake equating the event to near Hurricane Katrina proportions (see UN News Centre).
For the purposes of establishing a frame of reference, it is worth pointing out that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 to 7.9 is considered a “major” one, and that earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.0 or greater are extremely infrequent and generally understood as serious catastrophes when they do occur.
Aftershocks of the earthquake
In addition to the initial event, Nepal has been suffering from aftershocks as well. This is a common occurrence in the aftermath of earthquakes, since the sliding of plates that causes the original earthquake in the first place does not cease immediately. As Robertson and Koontz have indicated, the aftershocks in the event currently under consideration here:
“are expected to continue but occur less often with time. Aftershocks are earthquakes that occur following a large earthquake in the same general area as the mainshock and during the following days to years” (paragraph 2).
A major aftershock occurred in Nepal on the 12th of May; with a magnitude of 7.3, it almost matched the Richter reading of the initial earthquake and qualified as a major earthquake in its own right (see Barry). The event is thus an ongoing one, and the extent to which Nepal will continue being afflicted with serious aftershocks in the near future remains unclear.
The prediction of earthquakes has never been an exact science, and the most people can do is take precautions on the basis of the best knowledge at their disposal of the relevant risks. In the present case, the occurrence of previous high-magnitude aftershocks would likely be the best warning sign that such aftershocks could repeat themselves in the future.
Scientific explanation for the earthquake
The main reason that Nepal is so prone to earthquakes pertains to basic geography and geology. As McLain has written:
“Along the southern border of Nepal is the so-called Indus-Yarlung suture zone, where what is now the Indian subcontinent collided 40 million to 50 million years ago with the Eurasian plate. The collision created the Himalayan mountain range, the peaks of which are still rising by around one centimeter a year as a result” (paragraphs 2-3).
In other words, Nepal is situated near the very place where occurred one of the most volatile collisions of tectonic plates in the history of the planet. The earthquakes that plague this region in the present day are more or less fully traceable to this historical situation. The plates beneath the Himalayas are still shifting to this very day; they have never become fully stabilized; indeed, the very nature of their collision was such that it may not even be possible for them to ever become fully stabilized.
Volatility in Kashmir
This is the same reason, incidentally, why an enormous earthquake devastated Kashmir in the year 2005. Kashmir can be found in the northern part of the nation of India, right up against the Himalayan mountain range. As Naranjo has pointed out:
“Kashmir lies on the boundary of two colliding tectonic plates: the small Indian plate that underlies most of India and Pakistan, including much of Kashmir; and the vast Eurasian plate that underlies Europe, China, Russia, and much of the Middle East” (paragraph 4).
It is precisely the collision of these plates that created the Himalayan mountain range; and, of course, it is also the shifting of these same plates that has been implicated as the cause of the recent earthquakes in Nepal. In short, the science underlying this event is quite clear and also helps explain several related events. At this point, though, it may be appropriate to turn to a consideration of the relationship the recent event to the history of such events within Nepal itself.
Historical consideration of Nepal
According to Ravillious, the recent major earthquake in Nepal:
“was primed over 80 years ago by its last massive earthquake in 1934, which razed around a quarter of Kathmandu to the ground and killed over 17,000 people;” and “the latest quake follows the same pattern as a duo of big tremors that occurred over 700 years ago, and results from a domino effect of strain transferring along the fault” (paragraphs 1-2).
Again, this history is fully congruent with the scientific explanation of Nepal’s proneness to earthquakes that has been delineated above. Essentially, one earthquake establishes the necessary conditions for the next one. One disruption of the tectonic plates results in a temporary and unstable equilibrium; and when too great a pressure builds up within this equilibrium, it breaks, and this produces a new earthquake. In principle, such events have been going on since the beginning when the Indian and Eurasian plates first collided with each other. The chain running from an earthquake 700 years ago, to one 80 years ago, to one now would simply be the latest dominos in this chain of effects.
Unprecedented aftershock activity
On the other hand, though, the recent earthquake is relatively unique in having produced such large aftershocks. Admittedly, the difference between a 7.8 earthquake and a 7.3 aftershock is much greater than the numbers themselves may indicate: this is due to the logarithmic nature of the Richter scale, according to which a magnitude 8.0 earthquake is actually 10 times more intense (in terms of energy released) than a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. All the same, however, a 7.3 earthquake is still a major one, and it is not common for an aftershock to achieve such a magnitude (see Rawlinson).
The inevitability of the earthquakes in Nepal
It may be tempting to link the magnitude of this earthquake with the broader problems plaguing the planet as a whole in contemporary times, such as global warming. However, there would seem to be no immediate empirical connection between these various issues. Again: the tectonic shifts in the plates underlying Nepal have been occurring since the Indian plate first collided with the Eurasian plate, forming the Himalayan mountain range and ending the Indian subcontinent’s career as an island. Earthquakes have followed from this original event through the more or less necessary chain of events triggered by knocking over the first domino in a chain of dominos.
Therefore, it would likely be misguided to believe that the activities of human beings have had any substantial effects on this tectonic progression. The only real thing left up to human initiative is whether people would like to develop settlements upon such tectonic plates in the first place, and whether they would be able to develop strategies that could minimize harm and damage when the earthquakes do inevitably occur.
The global response
One of the major global responses to the earthquake has been the delivery of humanitarian aid to Nepal. The United Nations is one of the main stakeholders involved in such efforts. However, such efforts have thus far fallen significantly short of established objectives. As Mullen, Shrestra, and Smith-Spark have written:
“So far, only 14% of the humanitarian aid sought by the United Nations for the relief effort has been met, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. That means only $59 million has been committed, of the $423 million requested, since the first quake struck last month” (paragraph 2).
In short, relief efforts have thus far been inadequate relative to the magnitude of the crisis in Nepal. The United States has, however, taken a lead in the relief efforts, as the nation usually does in the event of crises across the globe, such as the Ebola epidemic. But all the same, further efforts are clearly needed.
Planning for future earthquakes
Questions have also arisen with respect to what can be done not only to provide emergency assistance to Nepal but also to build up Nepal in such a way that the nation will be more protected against catastrophes like this one in the future. After all, given the geography of Nepal, there is every reason to believe that the nation will continue to get hit by earthquakes in the future. Therefore, instead of simply waiting for something terrible to happen and then responding to the crisis, it would be an intelligent move to develop strategies for avoiding the crisis in the first place.
This could potentially raise questions about exactly what kind of humanitarian aid should be given to Nepal and how the aid given should be used, insofar as an effective use of resources could enable Nepal not only to recover from the present situation but also minimize potential harm that may be caused by future situations. Before such considerations could begin, though, bystander apathy must come to an end and further aid in general will be necessarily.
Nepal is still suffering from the aftermath of the initial earthquake, and further high-magnitude aftershocks could well be expected to happen. In this context, the globalized world clearly needs to step up the level of humanitarian aid that is being delivered to Nepal. In addition, once adequate resources have been committed to this cause, further analyses could also be conducted with respect to how to make use of these resources in a way that will also optimize Nepal’s security against earthquake damage in the future.
Barry, Ellen. “Weeks after Deadly Nepal Quake, Another Temblor Revives Fears.” New York Times. 12 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. .
BBC Staff. “Nepal Earthquake: Survivors ‘Unlikely’ after US Helicopter Crash.” BBC. 15 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. .
McLain, Sean. “Why Nepal Is So Prone to Earthquakes.” Wall Street Journal. 25 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. to-earthquakes/>.
Mullen, Jethro, Manesh Shrestra, and Laura Smith-Spark. “Nepal Earthquakes: Only Fraction of Aid Need Has Been Met, U.N. Says.” CNN. 15 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. .
Naranjo, Laura. “When the Earth Moved Kashmir.” Earth Observatory, 2008. Web. 16 May 2015. .
Robertson, Jessica, and Heidi Koontz. “Magnitude 7.8 Earthquake in Nepal & Aftershocks.” USGS. 12 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. .
Ravillious, Kate. “Nepal Quake ‘Followed Historic Pattern.” BBC. 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. .
Rawlinson, Nick. “Nepal Earthquake: Such Large Aftershocks Are Rare.” The Conversation. 15 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. aftershocks-are-rare-41833>.
UN News Centre. “As Powerful New Quake Hits Nepal, UN Races to Deliver Aid to Those Affected.” United Nations, 12 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. .