Beichuan, China after Wenchuan earthquake. Credit: Siobhan Whadcoat

A new multidisciplinary research project, ‘Earthquakes without frontiers’, includes researchers from IHRR at Durham University, Cambridge, Oxford, Hull and several other universities and institutes who will study a neglected area of earthquake research on the Alpine-Himalayan belt that stretches through Italy, Greece and Turkey, across the Middle East, Iran and central Asia, to China.  It is known as one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.  The project includes collaborators from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Iran.

Earthquakes that occur within continental interiors are extremely hazardous events that kill hundreds of thousands of people over time.  In order to avoid future catastrophes, physical and social scientific research is needed to find ways to mitigate earthquake disasters.  Since earthquakes ‘know no boundaries’, international scientific and policy collaboration is needed to develop strategies that can save people’s lives.  Researchers will use state-of-the-art ground and remote sensing technology to explore the link between earthquake faults and the landscapes they create.  Detecting ‘geological signals’ in the landscape before a fault moves could help communities who live in high-risk areas to prepare for seismic hazards.

Along with physical research into areas that frequently experience earthquakes that kill people, the project will also focus on the vulnerability of communities to seismic hazards.  Those who live within continental interiors are often unaware of the faults beneath them, such as in the case of the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran and the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China which subsequently caused many landslide hazards that can be as devastating as the earthquakes that trigger them (see Studying Landslides in China: A postgraduate researcher’s perspective).

Social scientists are needed to examine both the vulnerability and resilience of communities who live in regions prone to earthquake disasters.  IHRR’s pilot study, ‘Building Rural Resilience in Seismically Active Areas’, looked specifically at rural communities in Nepal and how they could build resilience to seismic hazards such as landslides.  ‘When the Shaking Stops’ has researched how communities can better prepare for secondary hazards caused by earthquakes, especially in less developed countries.  Researchers Dr Alex Densmore and Dr Mark Allen talk about research on secondary hazards from earthquakes in these two podcasts:

Solutions to these complex problems cannot come from physical science alone because the impact of these hazards on communities has a social and cultural basis.  Interdisciplinary research on seismic hazards including how they affect communities who live on or near active faults can find ways to strengthen people’s own resilience by implementing earthquake hazard mitigation strategies based on scientific knowledge.

Further Reading

Earthquakes without frontiers. Cambridge University Press Release

Building Rural Resilience in Seismically Active Areas. IHRR