India earthquake: Should Delhi brace for a Big One? Expert addresses recent earthquakes

Eleven earthquakes have been recorded in and around the Indian capital since May, the most powerful of which was a magnitude 3.4 tremor. And this spate of earthquakes has triggered alarm in the likelihood of increased seismicity around Delhi, and specific concerns of a significant earthquake hitting sometime soon.

Lawyer and activist Subuhi Khan tweeted her concerns on June 5: “The National Centre of Seismology has recorded around 10 earthquakes in and around Delhi-NCR between April 12 and May 29 in 2020.

Geologists say Delhi may have a major earthquake

Lawyer and activist Subuhi Khan

“Geologists say Delhi may have a major earthquake. It is imminent but can’t say when.”

However, scientists have been unequivocal in stating no unusual seismic activity is occurring around Delhi.

Dr Vineet Gehlot, former head of the National Centre for Seismology in Delhi, said: “There is absolutely nothing happening in Delhi that can be called unusual or abnormal.

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“If you look at the earthquake catalogue, Delhi and its surrounding areas, and this would extend till Jaipur, Ajmer, Mount Abut and the Aravallis, usually experience between two and three earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 and above every month.

“But there are monthly and annual variations as well.

“Geological and seismological processes are not very smooth.

“So sometimes you would expect to see higher number of earthquakes as well.

“I am pretty sure nothing special has happened in Delhi in the last couple of months.”

Earthquakes of magnitude four or below hardly cause any damage anywhere and are mostly inconsequential for practical purposes.

Thousands of such earthquakes are annually recorded around the world and most of them are uneventful.

And these weak quakes do not signal any big upcoming seismic event.

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Harsh Gupta, one of India’s foremost experts on earthquakes, said: “The concept of foreshocks is something that is largely applied in hindsight.

“When a big event happens, all the smaller earthquakes that have occurred in that region in the near past are classified as foreshocks.

“Foreshocks are post-event definitions. The description does not exist before any big earthquake has happened.

“So all this talk of these being foreshocks of a big earthquake in Delhi have no basis at all.

“A big earthquake might still occur. No one can rule it out.

“But they cannot be predicted. So to say that these small earthquakes are precursors to the big one is totally unscientific.”

Although researchers have long been attempting to identify “precursors” to an earthquake, they have so far been unsuccessful.

Some special earthquakes, the ones that are triggered by volcanic activity, can be predicted to some extent — Dr Gehlot describes them “much more well-behaved” than others — but nothing else.

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