Earthquake impacts

I-Hsien Porter

Shih Gang Reservoir, China after a 2005 earthquakeOn Monday night, a small (magnitude 3.3) earthquake struck near Ripon, North Yorkshire. Although the tremors were felt up to 100 km away, the earthquake did not cause very much damage.

Although the UK experiences a few hundred earthquakes every year, most are too small to be felt. Across Europe, large earthquakes are rare. However, in the Mediterranean, where the African tectonic plate pushes north into the Eurasian plate, damaging earthquakes have been known to occur.

In a recent article in The Geographical Journal, Chester and Chester explore the impacts of two major earthquakes in the eighteenth century, on the Algarve region of Portugal. One event, in 1755, cost between 32 and 48% of Portugal’s gross national product at the time.

Were this event to occur again now, in an urbanised tourist region, far more people would be affected. However, because such large events are rare, it’s difficult to forecast when they might recur.

A continuing challenge for scientific researchers is convincing decision makers to take action (emergency planning or preventative action), with such a high level of uncertainty. However, geography has a key role to play in understanding both the physical processes and their potential impacts on human lives, informing decision making about these risks.

Chester, D. and Chester, O. (2010) “The impact of eighteenth century earthquakes on the Algarve region, southern Portugal.” The Geographical Journal 176 (4): 350-370

BBC News (3rd January 2010) “Earthquake Hits North Yorkshire”

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