Historical analysis predicts Middle East earthquake

Israeli geologist says there is a high risk of a major earthquake in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and surrounding areas, writes ALASDAIR SOUSSI

AS IF the Middle East was not in trouble enough, a prominent Israeli scientist warned that another geological disaster could strike the region in the very near future.

Research by Dr Shmulik Marco, an academic in the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at Tel Aviv University, suggested that an earthquake of at least the same magnitude as those that recently devastated Haiti and some parts of Chile is a real threat to Israel, Palestine, Jordan and its surroundings.

“A strong earthquake in the Holy Land may well be imminent,” says Marco, visiting professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University in England. “After a period of major earthquakes every 400 years or so (during the first millennium or so), we have had a period of 1000 years without significant earthquakes, and that is what worries me.”

Marco, who has many years of experience documenting past earthquakes in the Middle East, used a combination of scientific and historical research to show that the Holy Land was caused by an earthquake of potentially epic proportions.

Based on translations of hundreds of documents, all written in Latin, Greek or Arabic, and from the Vatican and other religious institutions, Marco was able to establish that the Holy Land was subject to several major earthquakes – of magnitude seven or more – in the years 31BC, AD363, AD749 and AD1033, and although that 300-400 year trend ended there, it was a model that did not suit Marco himself. “We know that earthquakes happen where they’ve happened before, so their location shouldn’t come as a surprise,” he says. “In our research, we wanted to ask ourselves if there was a trend in their occurrence and what we could learn from past earthquakes.

“From there, we wanted to know more about two things: first, about the phenomenon itself, and second, to assess the danger or risk to human life. For [geologists], earthquakes are like the sound or the beating of the earth, just like a doctor using a stethoscope to listen to your body. And from my geological observations, where I examined the fine layered sediments, which had been disturbed by earthquakes near the Dead Sea Fault in the past, I was able to corroborate the historical accounts. . . which made it clear that all of us in the region should be concerned. “

The four major earthquakes that Marco unveiled occurred along the Jordan Valley and were explained in the many old letters and reports, which the Tel Aviv-based geologist used to piece together his clues.

Written by monks and clergy, in monasteries, churches and even by hermits in the wilderness, the documents, many in the form of correspondence to Europe requesting funds for repairs to churches and other necessities, were deciphered by an international team of historians whose assistance, says Marco, was crucial to his findings.

Major earthquakes in the Middle East have been frequent over the past decades, with Iran in particular being the site of many earthquake incidents, including the major earthquake of 2003 in the ancient desert city of Bam, which has killed more than 26,000 people. “If you take a piece of rubber between your two hands and start stretching it, you know that sooner or later it will crack,” says Marco. “But, you never know exactly when that will happen, but you know that the longer you spread your hands apart, the greater the chances of it breaking.

“It’s exactly the same as Earth. . . and without major earthquakes in the Holy Land for 1,000 years, after a period of them every 400 years, that means it is more extensive than it was before. And it is worrying. “

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Patrick F. Williams

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