Earthquakes of devastating proportions occurred in the southeast of Türkiye, near the border with Syria on February 6, 2023. Data from seismometers, which measure the shaking of the ground due to an earthquake, suggest the powerful event (seismic waves) was caught by sensors around the world. You can witness the seismic waves ripple across Europe, encompassing affected places as far away as the UK.
The tremors have had dire ramifications, devastating the people and the infrastructure in the region. More than 11,000 people are confirmed dead and thousands of buildings have been dashed to the ground in Türkiye and Syria till the time of writing. Also, there are reports of gas pipelines catching fire.
Prone to Earthquakes
This region of Türkiye is prone to earthquakes, because it lies at the intersection of three tectonic plates–that make up the earth’s crust. The Anatolian, Arabian, and African plates. Arabia is moving north towards Europe, causing the Anatolian Plate (on which Türkiye is located) to be pushed West. The movement of tectonic plates exerts pressure on fault zones at their boundaries. It is the sudden occurrence of this pressure which causes earthquakes and the unprecedented shaking of the ground.
The first earthquake on February 6 at magnitude 7.8 was particularly vast and destructive because it was so energetic. It was significantly larger than anything this region has experienced before, releasing and discharging more than twice the energy as the largest earthquake previously recorded in the region. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), only three earthquakes larger than magnitude of 6 have occurred within 250 km of this location since 1970
The latest earthquake is likely to have occurred on one of the major faults marking the boundaries between the Anatolian and Arabian plates: either the East Anatolian Fault or the Dead Sea Transform Fault. These are both “strike-slip faults”, meaning that these accommodate some of the motion of plates moving past one another.
Bigger than the past
While many earthquakes occur every year due to the ongoing movement of tectonic plates in the region, this earthquake was particularly vast and destructive because it was so energetic. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) states that only three earthquakes larger than 6 magnitude on the have occurred within 250 km of this location since 1970.
At magnitude 7.8, the event of February 6, 2023, is significantly larger than anything this region has experienced before, releasing and discharging more than twice the energy as the largest earthquake previously recorded in the region. Modern seismologists apply the moment magnitude scale, which represents the amount of energy released by an earthquake (the Richter scale is older, though sometimes incorrectly cited in the news).
“A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED”
- As soon as reports of the massive devastation in Türkiye and Syria started coming in, India immediately extended all possible help to the affected countries.
- Union Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan visited Turkey’s embassy on 6 February itself, and conveyed PM Narendra Modi’s message of sympathy & humanitarian support. He underscored India’s readiness to send relief material, as well as NDRF & medical teams to assist Türkiye.
- Fırat Sunel, Ambassador of Türkiye to India, replied to India’s gesture in a Tweet: “Dost” is a common word in Turkish and Hindi… We have a Turkish proverb: “Dost kara günde belli olur” (a friend in need is a friend indeed). Thank you very much
India has launched ‘Operation Dost’ to provide necessary support in terms of Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts as well as medical aid. India has deputed more than 250 personnel, dedicated equipment and other relief material, aggregating to more than 135 tonnes, to Türkiye on 5C-17 IAF aircrafts.
The assistance includes three self-sustained teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) numbering more than 150 specially trained personnel, along with dog squads, specialized equipment, vehicles and supplies. Their equipment allows for detection, location, access and extrication of people trapped under collapsed structures. Besides, personnel and equipment have been sent to set up a 30-bed self-sustained field hospital of the Indian Army. This comprises a team of 99 specially trained personnel, with essential medicines, advanced equipment, vehicles and ambulances. The hospital provides a fully functional operation theatre, and facilities such as X-ray, ventilators, etc.
To Syria, more than 6 tonnes of emergency relief assistance has been delivered through a C130J IAF aircraft to Damascus. The consignment includes medicines for emergency use, fluids for hydration, protective gear, general use medicines and medical equipment such as ECG machine, patient monitor etc.
We think of seismic energy as coming from a single location or epicentre, but these are actually caused by movement in the area of a fault. The bigger the earthquake, the bigger is the fault area which would have moved and shaken. An object as large as this magnitude 7.8 is expected to move in a region of about 190 km long and 25 km wide. This means that the tremors must have been felt over a much larger area. Terrible shaking (enough to cause horrendous property damage) is estimated to have affected 610,000 people in the surrounding area about 80 km to the northeast along the tectonic plate boundary. Mild tremors were felt by as far as Türkiye’s largest city Istanbul (about 815 km away), as well as by Baghdad (800 km) in Iraq and Cairo (950 km) in Egypt.
Large earthquakes are followed by many smaller earthquakes, known as aftershocks, as the crust readjusts to the change in stress. These may persist for days to years after the initial event. Three more earthquakes of magnitude above 6.0 occurred in the first 12 hours after the initial tremor in southeast Türkiye.
The first was of magnitude 6.7, which occurred only 11 minutes after the first shock, followed by hundreds of smaller magnitude aftershocks. The second, of magnitude 7.5, occurred farther north on a separate but adjacent fault system: The Sergu Fault. Technically this was powerful enough to count as a separate earthquake in its own right, although it is likely triggered by an earlier earthquake. And it will generate its own series of aftershocks. While aftershocks are usually much smaller than the principal shock, these can have equally devastating consequences, further damaging infrastructure destroyed by the first earthquake and thereby hampering rescue efforts. As the aftermath of these massive earthquakes is being felt by people living in the region, we can only hope that Türkiye and Syria are aided and helped by the international community as early as feasible to supplement with the ongoing rescue efforts.