"It is impossible to artificially cause an earthquake so imperceptibly"
Russian scientist refutes conspiracy theories
INTERVIEWS 09 February 2023 - 11:29
Caliber.Az presents an interview with the Vice-President of the Arctic Public Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Technical Sciences, and assistant professor of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Metrology named after Mendeleyev, Arseniy Mitko.
- Scientists argue that the catastrophic earthquake in Türkiye and Syria was caused by a sudden movement of the East Anatolian fault, which triggered a collision between the Anatolian and Arabian plates, giving rise to other faults at the same time. What caused the sudden movement of the East Anatolian fault and how common is this phenomenon?
- The boundary between the two lithospheric plates, the Eurasian and Arabian, runs roughly along the Türkiye-Syria border. According to scientists, they have now shifted by three metres. There are 14 of the largest tectonic plates on Earth, which cover approximately 90% of the surface of the planet, varying in thickness from two or three to over two hundred kilometres. As is known, these plates are in constant movement, and therefore underground shocks and volcanic eruptions occur at their boundaries. And they move over a comparatively soft and plastic layer of the upper mantle which is called the asthenosphere ("asthenos" means "weak", or "powerless" in Greek). Such a weak layer begins approximately at a depth of one hundred kilometres under continents and 50-60 kilometres under the ocean bed and comes to an end somewhere at a depth of 200-300 meters. It is not as rocky as the crust, but not as ductile as the mantle beneath it. Something in between.
But now it turns out that the asthenosphere has a rather unexpected structure in places. The mantle, and the geosphere in general, are checked by observing how seismic waves travel through rocks. In many ways, the speed at which they propagate depends on the density of the rock. The denser the rock, the higher the speed will be. Let's say a wave travels up to seven kilometres per second through basalt, but only one or two kilometres per second through, say, clay. Now, directly beneath the tectonic plate, at the point where Türkiye is located, there are areas where the shockwaves travel much slower. Scientists have concluded that in these places the rocks are partially molten, that is, they are more liquid than what is above and below them. And that partial melt is about 150 kilometres deep. It turned out that precisely the same layers of partial melt cover a good half of the planet's mantle.
- Should we expect more tremors of the same magnitude in this area?
- There has been tension dropping in one part of the plate. So the whole plate has become active and the energy is spreading to other parts. That is, redistribution of tension can lead to new earthquakes on fairly distant parts of the plate. It is now necessary to study the dynamics and locations of aftershocks. This is the only way scientists can understand where to wait for the next tremors. It is necessary to see how the seismic sequence will develop, i.e. whether only the contact zone will be activated or whether it will expand to the south or east - to the Dead Sea Zone of Cyprus and to the Zagros mountain range in Iraq. The possibility of a similar earthquake to the Turkish one in Crimea is not excluded because the peninsula is part of the same seismic belt, that is, in the Alpine-Himalayan belt, in the same structure as Türkiye. A repeat of such an event in Crimea is fundamentally possible. An earthquake in Türkiye could be followed by the eruption of a number of volcanoes. Conspiracy analysts link the tremors in Türkiye to recent research by Chinese scientists who say the movement of the Earth's core has stopped.
- Experts predict that repeated weak tremors in the disaster area will last for many days, if not months. How true do you think this is?
- In the coming 3-4 months, we will be able to observe tremors of magnitude 7 and higher, as well as smaller and barely noticeable ones. If the main shock was a magnitude 7.8, the second one, of the aftershock series of magnitude 7.5, will be 10 times less intense. This does not mean there will be less destruction, as all buildings were intact in the first shock and most buildings were damaged in the aftershock. Consequently, even if there are mild tremors in Türkiye, they can still have a devastating effect.
As for predicting earthquakes, it is almost impossible at the moment. The fact is that having studied the particular territory, experts can surmise that a strong earthquake is likely to hit a certain area. However, it is not possible to predict exactly when it will happen, even approximately.
- Why do you think the earthquake in Türkiye was so deadly?
- It followed a foreshock - a series of smaller earthquakes 24 hours earlier along the fault system. By the evening of February 6 (22:30 local time) about 30 foreshocks of magnitude 4.5 and above had been recorded between the Mediterranean Sea (100 km SSW) and the city of Malatya (200 km NE). The North Anatolian Fault is much like the San Andreas Fault in California. They are the same size. In addition, they are both straight-side shear faults of similar length and longitudinal velocity. The ground across the shear fault shifts sideways, while the right lateral shift means the opposite side shifts to the right. The tectonic setting in Türkiye is more complex than in California. The San Andreas Fault marks the transform boundary between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate, two of the twelve major moving plates that make up the crustal mosaic. The North Anatolian fault is the northern boundary of the small Turkish microplate, which is sandwiched between the Eurasian plate to the north and the Arabian plate to the south. As the Arabian and Eurasian plates converge, the Turkish microplate pushes out to the west.
- So there was no way to predict, to foresee this catastrophe?
- Exactly. It could not have been foreseen that an earthquake would happen in Türkiye at the time, but according to some estimates, it would have happened within five years in a region larger than the size of the country. Any preventive measures would have been futile. A large area larger than Türkiye was expected to experience a magnitude 8 earthquake within the next 5 years. There was no point in taking any preventive measures for this forecast because it was not economically feasible for such an area and for such a period of time. It was impossible to foresee an earthquake in Türkiye, nobody can do that. Nor can we rule out the possibility that the quake was "artificial" - people have already learned how to cause induced earthquakes. For example, such a cataclysm can be triggered by a violent landslide. For the sake of justice, I should note that the world scientific community considers it impossible to artificially cause a destructive earthquake so that no one would notice it. But it is reliably known that during the Cold War, the US and the USSR were developing tectonic weapons capable of causing an earthquake. It was assumed that it could be done by initiating an explosion at a pre-calculated point, which could be at a considerable distance from the target. However, such an explosion would have to be at least nuclear - and so would not escape the monitoring equipment of the US, Russia, Germany, France, China, Britain, and Japan. Another option is a missile (even non-nuclear) strike on a volcano, awakening its eruption and resulting in tectonic oscillations.
- Is there an earthquake threat in Azerbaijan?
- The next tremors can be expected in the Caucasus, as the movement of tectonic plates may now move towards Armenia, Azerbaijan, and other countries. Nothing can be predicted precisely, but it is likely that earthquakes in the Caucasus will not be as destructive. This is the movement of the tectonic plates - the Arabian plate has crawled onto the East European platform. The articulation zone is there, followed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Caucasus. So, there is a possibility of earthquakes in the Caucasus region after some time, but not as strong, because this part of the platform has taken the brunt of the impact.
Earthquakes that hit the eastern part of Türkiye have long been expected, but specialists expect them to be 15-20 times weaker. The earth's surprises are unpredictable. There have been no major earthquakes in that area for a long time, so they have piled up.
- What, apart from destruction, could be the aftermath of the Turkish earthquake?
- In the last two days, central and eastern Türkiye, Syria, the Kuril Islands, China, the US state of New York, Romania, Pakistan, and Argentina have all been tremored. There was also seismic activity off the coast of Taiwan and Indonesia and shocks were felt in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Georgia, and Sochi. This has already happened in different years on Lake Baikal in Russia and Lake Khubsugul in Mongolia, where aftershocks were recorded for two more years. The greatest danger threatens the countries which are located in areas of the largest fractures of the earth's crust. One of these, the Pacific Ring of Fire, runs along the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean. Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, New Zealand, and the western shores of the Americas are all located there. The Alpine-Himalayan belt, which stretches from Java to the Mediterranean, is also at risk of major earthquakes. It covers the Himalayas, the mountains of China, Iran, India, the Caucasus, Anatolia, Romania, France, and many others. But even there, as in Türkiye, it is impossible to foresee an earthquake...
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