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Pakistan Quake: The Inside Story

The earthquake that devastated Pakistan on Saturday was acontinental scale tectonic event. It was followed by over adozen aftershocks and was the result of stresses built up bythe northward movement of the Indian Subcontinent. TheUnited States Geologic Service says, "much of thecompressional motion between these two colliding plates hasbeen and continues to be accomodated by slip on a suite ofmajor thrust faults that are at the earth's surface in thefoothills of the mountains and dip northward beneath theranges." Little is understood about the connectivity ofearthquakes that are not on contiguous faults, but there issome evidence that they come in sequence.

For example, the rupture of the Indo Trench on December 26,2004 was preceeded by a 8.1 quake south of Australia onDecember 23, and followed almost immediately by a quake offthe coast of Peru that some scientists thought might havebeen triggered by a shock from the Indo Trench quake thatmoved through the planet.

Unfortunately, our knowledge of the geology of earth's deepinterior is not sufficient to enable us to determine withany certainty if geographically distant earthquakes thattake place in close time proximity are related.

Nevertheless, a large quake occuring at the root of theHimalayas, which represent the single largest geologicallyunstable area on the planet, should offer warning thatfurther large quakes could shake Eurasia in coming days orweeks.

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