THE WEATHER CHANNEL — There were several factors at play that made Monday’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria so devastating and that shape earthquakes in the region overall.
Charles Ammon, an expert in earthquake seismology at Penn State University, explained the science behind the deadly quake to us in an interview Monday afternoon.
Here’s what he had to say.
“There’s three plates that are interacting in that region," Ammon said. "There’s the plate that’s holding or hosting, Turkey. There’s the Arabian plate moving to the north and the African plate is off to the east.”
Those plates are constantly shifting, with Turkey being nudged toward the west.
"These motions are on the order of a few inches per year, so most of the time there’s not large motions that you can detect," Ammon said.
"That slow motion accumulates strain in the rocks adjacent to the faults and at some point that strain, which is exerting a stress upon the fault, overcomes the friction that holds the rocks together over the fault and that produces a sudden shifting that we call an earthquake."
In this particular area, the fault line is shallow. That means more potential for heavy damage, deaths and injuries.
“This is a fairly large, shallow earthquake located by a number of densely populated areas, cities, and that’s going to make it a very significant earthquake," Ammon said.
“In terms of the shallowness, what that means is it’s close to people. So any earthquake that Is deep is not near any of us.”
The 7.8 magnitude quake that struck Monday, followed by a 7.5 aftershock a few hours later, destroyed entire blocks and left thousands of people dead or injured. Search and rescue efforts were ongoing as the sun set and temperatures fell below freezing.
Together, the main quake and largest aftershock caused cumulative damage that made the situation worse.
"The magnitude 7.5 aftershock is large enough to cause substantial damage on its own," Ammon said. "It was spatially located about 90 kilometers or about 50 miles to the northwest of the original magnitude 7.8 earthquake."
It may have produced its own damage, as well as potentially further wrecking buildings left vulnerable after the first quake.
Ammon said there will continue to be aftershocks from the Turkey/Syria quake, maybe for years. But there's no way to predict how strong they might be, or when another major quake might strike.
“No one can predict earthquakes. We just can't do that yet," he said. "We are working on ideas that combine the patterns we've seen in other earthquakes in the past, to forecast what's the likelihood of an aftershock occurring or where do we think the large earthquakes are going to go. But the preciseness of what's going to happen exactly when and exactly how big it might be, that is not possible right now.”