A team of geologists who studied the Haiti earthquake that struck on the 12th of January and caused a series of destructive tsunamis suggest that the risk of similar events taking place in places such as Kingston (Jamaica), Istanbul (Turkey) and Los Angeles is much higher than currently thought.
These cities lie near the coast and near an active geological feature called a strike-slip fault, and until now geologists did not consider the tsunami risk that high in these places.
“The scary part about that is you do not need a large earthquake to trigger a large tsunami,” said Matt Hornbach, research associate at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics and lead author on the paper published in the latest online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.
“Organizations that issue tsunami warnings usually look for large earthquakes on thrust faults,” said Hornbach. “Now we see you don’t necessarily need those things. A moderate earthquake on a strike-slip fault can still be cause for alarm.”
More Dangerous Than Expected
A strike-slip fault is a point where two tectonic plates slip past each other like two hands brushing past one another. When points like this rupture, they usually do not vertically displace the seafloor much, which is how the majority of tsunamis are generated.
However, this latest research suggests that even a moderate earthquake on a strike-slip fault can generate tsunamis.
“The geology of Kingston, Jamaica is nearly identical to Port Au Prince, Haiti,” said Hornbach. “It’s primed and ready to go and they need to prepare for it. The good news is, they have a leg up because they’re aware of the problem.”
Image Source: United Nations Development Programme