- Another catastrophic giant earthquake similar to the
one that caused carnage across the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day last year
is lurking off Indonesia, say scientists.
- Recent seismic activity in the region has piled dangerous
levels of stress onto a section of the Sunda trench fault zone west of
Sumatra. This makes a large earthquake there far more likely and could
trigger another devastating tsunami.
- The warning comes from a team of seismologists at the
University of Ulster in Coleraine. Professor John McCloskey, who led the
research, said: "This is a very scary event we're concerned about.
The potential for a devastating tsunami from it is significant and real.
I hope it doesn't happen, but the indications are really strong that it
will, maybe even soon."
- Giant earthquakes can raise stress in surrounding rocks,
making other seismic slips more likely. In March the Ulster group looked
at the effects of the Boxing Day event and predicted another giant earthquake
would strike the region. Less than two weeks later, on March 28, an adjacent
region of the fault gave way. The magnitude 8.7 earthquake killed an estimated
2,000 people, mainly on the island of Nias.
- The Ulster team has now used the same technique to assess
the aftermath of that second quake. Their analysis shows stress in the
region to the south of the March 28 rupture has increased by up to 8 bar,
priming it for a massive megathrust quake where one tectonic plate slips
- The scientists cannot predict exactly when the next earthquake
might strike, but say local people ought to be prepared. There are plans
to deploy sensors to detect tsunamis throughout the Indian Ocean, but no
system is yet in place.
- The Mentawai islands face the greatest threat. Although
stress increases are higher near the Batu islands, an earthquake last struck
there in 1935. The Mentawai section of the fault has not slipped since
1833, when records show the resulting giant earthquake caused a large tsunami.
- Prof McCloskey said his calculations suggest the risk
of another massive earthquake is now greater than it was before March 28.
"There are several indications that this one looks like a stronger
interaction than the last. The actual stresses we measure are more or less
the same but the ripeness of the fault now is of real concern." The
recent increase in the number of small and medium earthquakes in the area
is also ringing alarm bells.
- A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck off the Indonesian
coast yesterday but there were no reports of damage or casualties. It sparked
panic in Sinabang, the main town of Simeulue off Sumatra, but did not trigger
a tsunami. Indonesia has been rocked by repeated tremors since the Boxing
Day event that killed more than 176,000 people in 11 countries, and left
about 50,000 missing and hundreds of thousands homeless.
- Tony Blair is to push for an international network of
scientists to watch the world for potential natural disasters. It would
also identify the gaps in the understanding of the natural world and look
at new ways to help protect the most vulnerable populations.
- "The events of Boxing Day 2004 have demonstrated
that we ignore extreme natural hazards at our peril," said Sir David
King, chief scientific adviser to the cabinet, who set up the working group.
- "We must take up the challenge of identifying such
threats, understanding the processes and mechanisms that underpin them,
and developing effective systems to mitigate their impact."
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