About Kashmir earthquakes

Response to the article Braving the fury of nature , published in GK Magazine



Several severe pre-instrumental earthquakes occurred in the Kashmir seismic gap of the Himalaya in the nineteenth century. However, historical accounts show absence of any earthquake along southern side of the Zanskar range flanking the Kashmir Valley in the north/northeast. Contradictory to what Mr. Showket Shafi wrote in his article “Braving the fury of nature” (GK, 13/10/2012 in which he mentioned, sans any historical record, of chasm having formed at Mansbal. Further, he quoted 1873 and 1884 seismic events which are absolutely wrong dates. I would suggest the author to consult a recent publication on The Historical Record of Earthquakes in Kashmir Valley- first ever pre-instrumental earthquake catalogue of Kashmir by Ahmad et. al., 2009. It is unbelievable that a person affiliated with the “seat of higher learning” should be disseminating wrong information and loosely using technical terms (e.g., big; disastrous; large; terrible and severe earthquakes) pertaining to a technical subject as the earthquake geology, obviously unaware that no magnitude calibration has yet been done for the earthquakes mentioned by him. Referring to Prof. Ramshoo’s statement regarding the “tectonic setting” and “earth history” of the region, may I request him to elaborate on the subject, particularly on the tectonic setting.   Kashmir seismic gap having its proximity to northwestern syntaxial bend was hit by earthquakes in the past as evidenced by the historical and rupture records. The largest earthquakes which occurred in this gap are 1552, 1735, 1778, 1803, 1824, 1828, 1863 and 1885. All these seismic events were associated with crustal deformation and secondary effects on landscape including slope movements, ground cracks, hydrological anomalies and liquefaction. All these events appear to have been part of a classic foreshock-main shock-aftershock sequence that extended over a considerable period of time. Of these 1863 and 1885 events occurred in the northwest of Kashmir Valley in the Kruhan [Baramulla] area causing severe damage to life and property. The 1863 earthquake seems to be destructive in nature which provides insight in to effects on natural and built environment and likely fall in the same [Baramulla] physiographic setup, but lacks additional source information for further seismic appraisal.  However, 1885 event seems to have been far more severe and is relatively better recorded that makes it a typical case study for seismic re-evaluation. Recent October 8 2005 (MW =7.6) earthquake ruptured the westernmost end of the Himalayan arc between the site of the 28 December 1974 Pattan (Afganistan) earthquake  and sites of damaging earthquakes to the southeast that occurred in 1863 and 1885 which lie at the edge of a calculated stress-increased zone. This zone might extend southeast as far as the nucleation site of the 1905 M = 7.8 Kangra earthquake, where a slip deficit still exists. Therefore, it is imperative that late 19th century earthquakes need to be re-evaluated in the context of increased stresses in this region.  Among the Instrumental earthquakes of Kashmir, Budgam earthquake of 1963 and Anantnag earthquake of 1967 needs an immediate attention.
Referring to the seismic vulnerability of Kashmir, done by the GSI way back and out dated in the present socio-economic scenario, it seems irrelevant to assign “very high vulnerability” to the region without probabilistic seismic hazard assessment (PSHA). On what basis do the scientists of our community assign such values is not understood, while as lack of complete tectonic setting and rock mechanics data should hold back all of us to assign the building codes. What needs to be done is to estimate the surface wave magnitude of the earthquakes that occurred in the Valley between 1800-1900, and to conduct paleoseismological investigation; which is for sure beyond the scope of land-use land- cover techniques.

Author has worked on the Paleoseismology of  Mosquito Fault in Colorado and Wasatch Fault in Utah, USA. Reach him at bashirahmad1@live.com

Lastupdate on : Wed, 24 Oct 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 24 Oct 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 25 Oct 2012 00:00:00 IST

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