A monastery lies in shambles in Kathmandu after the earthquake of April 25, 2015. Niranjan Shrestha/AP

Last year’s temblor left enough energy in the ground to fuel another major disaster, say scientists.

The 7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015 killed more than 8,000, moved the city 10 feet south, and crumbled innumerable buildings as if they were made of stale cake. Yet despite more than 100 aftershocks, there’s still enough pent-up energy below the ground to fuel another huge quake, according to a study in Nature Geoscience.

In the aftermath of the disaster, scientists rushed to the Himalayas to assess the situation. What they found was the quake didn’t create a visible tear in the earth’s surface. That was odd, given they thought the fault responsible had enough strain on it to cause nearly a dozen feet of ground-shift. That likely means there’s a great well of energy still pooled below the region, which future quakes can harvest with devastating consequences.

A girl stands in 2016 by the house that fell and trapped her after last year’s quake. Many buildings in the region are still completely demolished. (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

Here’s more from the University of Colorado Boulder about what might be lurking in the seismic pipeline:

Historical earthquakes in the region—in 1803, 1833, 1905, and 1947—also failed to rupture the surface of the Himalayan frontal faults and they, too, experienced a lack of afterslip or large subsequent earthquakes. That, according to the team’s research, means there’s significant strain throughout the region.

“There’s no evidence that it will spontaneously rupture in another damaging earthquake,” says [coauthor Roger] Bilham. “But the strain may fuel a future earthquake starting nearby. The entire Himalayan arc may host dozens of pockets of strain energy awaiting release in future great earthquakes.”

And this region remains vulnerable to earthquakes, not only because of its geography, but because of its architecture and development patterns. While this 2015 earthquake killed 8,000 people, left tens of thousands homeless, and destroyed parts of Kathmandu, the amount of strain built up in the faults, if released suddenly, could do much more damage in this part of the world. 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.
    Coronavirus

    Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

    The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?

  2. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  3. Illustration: two roommates share a couch with a Covid-19 virus.
    Coronavirus

    For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

    Renters in apartments and houses share more than just germs with their roommates: Life under coronavirus lockdown means negotiating new social rules.

  4. Traffic-free Times Square in New York City
    Maps

    Mapping How Cities Are Reclaiming Street Space

    To help get essential workers around, cities are revising traffic patterns, suspending public transit fares, and making more room for bikes and pedestrians.

  5. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

×