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What Is Up With All These Earthquakes in Delhi?

With over 10 tremors in the past two months, we asked a seismologist if we need to add worrying about a big earthquake to the long list of things we’re currently worrying about.
June 4, 2020, 9:52am
earthquake delhi

It's safe to say that it seems like Delhi can’t catch a break. Apart from rising numbers of coronavirus cases, the capital and its surrounding areas have also seen over 10 earthquakes, of low to medium intensity, over the past two months. Yesterday, on June 3 as well, a low intensity earthquake measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale was felt in Noida in the National Capital Region.

With stress levels already high from being amid a pandemic, the earthquakes seem like just another addition in the series of apocalyptic events that have dotted this year—from cyclones to locust attacks. Of course the memes with regards to the series of tremors, then, had to follow.

However, this has also left many wondering why these many earthquakes have decided to make their presence felt at such a time—and what this means for India’s capital region? We asked one of the top seismology experts in the country.

“Delhi is surrounded by major faults and is close to the Himalayas, which is a seismic belt,” says Dr AP Pandey, senior scientist at the National Centre of Seismology. “In the Delhi NCR region as well, there are several faults such as the Mahendragarh-Dehradun fault and the Sohna fault. There are also a lot of tectonic activities going all around the Himalaya [belt]. These activities lead to stress energies being accumulated in the weak zones—where Delhi falls. So this stress energy gets released from time to time in the form of small earthquakes.”

Pandey reminds us that though we might be tempted to lump the earthquakes together with the other natural calamities that have haunted us recently so that they can fit into the narrative of 2020 being a particularly sucky year, these tremors are not really unusual. “The smaller earthquakes are all well distributed in these fault lines,” he tells VICE. “This is not a particularly unusual instance that is happening right now.” He adds that Delhi doesn’t see frequent large earthquakes—one of the largest it saw was back in 2012 which had its epicentre in Rohtak which scaled 4.9 on the Richter scale. “Every year, there are several earthquakes in the region, of smaller magnitude. You can’t say that the frequency has increased because the earthquakes are only due to the stress-energy accumulation.”

But could these smaller earthquakes signal the arrival of a bigger one? Even though Dr A K Shukla, former Head of Earthquake Risk Evaluation Centre of the Indian Metrology Department told Livemint that “a series of such earthquakes ostensibly warn of a major earthquake to hit Delhi in coming days”, Pandey denies the surety of one. “Since the surface of the earth is so heterogenous, predicting in terms of time and magnitude is a difficult task. Honestly, it is difficult to say if and when an earthquake of a bigger magnitude is going to come.”

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