“No earthquake warning systems in Kashmir”: In conversation with Imtiyaz Parvez

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The Kashmir valley is located in the volatile Himalayas range and has a history of earthquakes. The region falls in seismic Zone V, a very high-risk zone where the occurrence of microearthquakes is normal and dangers of major earthquakes are real. The Kashmir Walla spoke Imtiyaz Ahmed Parvez, Senior Principal Scientist and Professor at Bangalore based Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR) to know about the cause of earthquakes and preventive measures required to minimise the damage and fatalities.

In the past year, Kashmir has felt around 100 tremors. Is it a normal phenomenon or there is something to be worried about? 

Well, when we speak about tremors we should also speak about the magnitude of the tremors. If these 100 tremors are microearthquakes with a magnitude less than 4.0, it is normal because Kashmir Himalayas is located in seismic Zone 5, where the occurrence of such microearthquakes is normal.

What is the cause of frequent earthquakes in Kashmir?

The majority of the earthquakes in the world are tectonic types of earthquakes. Kashmir is part of the Himalayas which has been formed as a result of the collision between Eurasian and the Indian plate. The Indian plate has been moving north for millions of years and still moving along the collision boundary with different rates in different sectors. Such deformation rates particularly in Kashmir are ~14-16 mm/year. This movement obviously builds stress and causes friction between two plates. As a result, when such stress exceeds the limit, energy releases and we experience earthquakes. We don’t see any possibility of these plate motions coming to rest, and hence earthquakes will keep occurring in this region. Historical seismicity of Kashmir valley and the adjoining region indicates about ~ 14 damaging earthquakes have occurred since the year 1123.

Are there any early warning systems to warn people or prepare them for earthquakes in Kashmir?

To my knowledge, there are no early warning systems in place in Kashmir. However, since the region is recognised for earthquake occurrences, people should always be prepared for any eventuality.

In an earthquake-prone zone, what is the possible impact of existing multiple dams? 

The dams are built on the surface where the depth of the water goes up to a few 100s of meters. Whereas the focus of the earthquakes is much deeper, even the shallow earthquakes are several kilometers deep. I don’t see any impact of dams in the occurrence of frequent earthquakes.

Is there any mechanism/method to predict if an earthquake of a much larger intensity is likely to occur in the future? What can we say of possible impact in Jammu and Kashmir region? 

When we speak about the prediction of earthquakes, it contains three parameters; (1) size (2) location and (3) time. So far, there is no mechanism to predict all these three parameters for any future earthquake. However, we know the regions that are seismogenic and prone to damaging earthquakes. In these seismogenic zones, the impact of such damaging earthquakes can be predicted in terms of ground motion that helps to assess the earthquake hazard and risk in the region. 

Of what magnitude are the fault systems around Kashmir capable of producing an earthquake? 

In my opinion, fault systems around Kashmir are capable of producing an earthquake of magnitude (Mw) 7 – 7.5.

What are the measures that should be taken to avoid the severe damage caused by earthquakes? 

Earthquakes don’t kill people but the buildings kill. The only measure is to assess the earthquake hazard and risk in such seismically prone areas and go for the safe design of buildings and other infrastructure.

As of now, how resistant is the existing infrastructure in Kashmir? How to make buildings earthquake resistant? 

As I have been working in Kashmir Himalayas for the last eight years, the infrastructure, particularly the houses are poorly constructed. The house owners spend a lot of money on superficial finishing and outer decoration but they don’t use earthquake resistant engineering structure. The building construction must be regulated and existing houses must go for retrofitting.

Are earthquake zone guidelines being followed in Kashmir? What are the measures that the government should take immediately to mitigate a potential future disaster? 

The disaster management authority from the state must take initiative in monitoring the earthquakes, prepare maps at different scales on earthquake hazards and risks in Kashmir, create awareness in the society about earthquake-resistant construction and safety measures.

What areas in Kashmir are the most prone to earthquakes? What is the seismic zone of Kashmir? 

Unfortunately, the entire Kashmir region comes in Zone 5 and it is prone to earthquakes. However, the valley will have more impact of ground motion because it has very thick sediments that can amplify the ground motion much more.

Do you think the Disaster Management Department (DMD) is well prepared for damage control?

I am not sure how well equipped they are. To bring things under control, they should have high-resolution maps in terms of expected ground motion, expected loss of life, and properties, which are essential for mitigating the risks and disaster management. These need to be checked with the department.

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