Besides facing imminent nuclear war with Pakistan, India faces devastation from earthquakes, as well.Following an exhaustive geophysical and historical analysis, Roger Bilham and his team from Colorado University?s geological sciences department believe there will be one or more massive earthquakes in India in the near future, threatening millions of lives.

“Unfortunately, we have been forced to reach a very undesirable conclusion,” Bilham says. “We set out to try and eliminate the possibility of one or more large, overdue earthquakes in the Himalaya occurring very soon, and we have failed. We looked for geophysical loopholes that might provide alternatives to such devastating events, including recent, large earthquakes, smaller earthquakes to relieve the underlying pressure or very slow-moving earthquakes, but none of these scenarios fit.”

Bilham worked with geological sciences Professor Peter Molnar and Vinod Gaur of the Indian Institute for Astrophysics in Bangalore, India. They concluded that India is overdue for as many as 7 earthquakes of at least one 8.1 to 8.3 magnitude. “In the past decade using satellite technology we have measured India advancing toward Tibet at a rate of two meters per century,” Bilham says. “The historic record indicates only two great earthquakes in the Himalaya in the past two centuries, suggesting that the slip along 70 percent of the arc potentially may exceed four meters.”

When they looked at the historical data prior to 1800, the researchers found very few giant earthquakes, meaning that the area is long overdue for them. “In some parts of the Himalaya there may have been no great earthquakes for 500 years, yet they are known to have occurred over time since their effects can be viewed in trenches across the faults that lie beneath the frontal ranges of the Himalaya,” Bilham says.

Their data indicate that a slip zone is located about underground between the Indian and Asian plates that is comprised of hot, steam-like fluid. The temperature, pressure and amount of fluids affect the entire seismic system. Bilham says, “The main driving engine in the system is the movement of the Indian plate, which winds up the Greater Himalaya like a giant spring compressed against the Himalayan Plateau. Deep beneath Tibet, India slides northward with comparative ease. We know the inevitable outcome. The lock holding the spring will break, propelling the Himalaya southward in a giant earthquake. A giant earthquake is the only solution to have these plates unzip and slide. Sadly, to have the Indian and Himalayan plates ‘unzip’ to remove the geologic stress requires one or more giant earthquakes to occur. This is where we tried to prove ourselves and the geophysics wrong. We failed.”

The huge population of India, which has quadrupled since the turn of the century and doubled to 1 billion people since 1950, puts an enormous number of people at risk.Bilham says, “Now we are talking about 10 million people at risk from a single earthquake. Never before have we seen such a huge human geological target.”

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Bilham has solved the mystery of what caused a great earthquake in northeast India in 1897 that killed several thousand people and reduced all masonry buildings to rubble in a region roughly the size of England. At the turn of the century, British Captain J. Bond discovered 24 feet of uplift on the Shillong Plateau while working for the Survey of India, but his superiors didn?t believe his report. Along with Oxford University Professor Philip England, Bilham believes the Assam earthquake most likely was caused by two adjacent faults rupturing beneath the Earth’s surface in India near Bangladesh. Estimated to be an 8.1 magnitude quake, the extremely violent event caused part of the Shillong Plateau to shoot up nearly 50 feet in just three seconds. “We think we have solved a mystery that has puzzled scientists for over a century,” says Bilham, “Before this, nobody really knew what happened.”

The new analysis indicates “the acceleration from the epicenter of the earthquake some 10 miles deep exceeded that of gravity, causing boulders, tombstones and even people to be tossed into the air,” he says. “Our findings represent the first quantitative observation of active deformation of a ‘pop-up’ structure, and confirms that faults bounding such structures can penetrate the whole crust.” This earthquake was similar to the earthquake that devastated Bhuj, India, at the opposite end of the continent on January 26, killing an estimated 25,000 people.

“Fortunately, an earthquake as powerful as the Assam event only occurs about once every 3,000 years on the Oldham fault,” says Bilham. “They are very rare, but could be extremely devastating in this region given the huge population of people now living in Bangladesh and the poor construction practices there.”

Ancient Hindu writings talk of a great civilization deep in the past that perished due to what seems to be nuclear war. Civilizations have suffered from catastrophes in the ancient past and recovered. Read about how they did it in ?Catastrophobia? by Barbara Hand Clow, click here.

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