A giant fault in the earth’s crust covers by millions of tonnes of sediment in one of the world’s most densely populated areas could kill tens of millions of people, scientists have claimed. Researchers placed hundreds of highly accurate GPS receivers in locations across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar and monitored them over a ten year period. Now the scientists fear the location is home to a megathrust fault which could unleash a 9.0 magnitude earthquake at any minute.
More than 140 million people live within a 60 mile area of the potential disaster zone in Bangladesh
The scientists, led by Dr Michael Steckler from Columbia University published their findings in the journal Nature.
The experts discovered that millions of tonnes of sediment from the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers has been dumped into the megathrust fault, where one of the earth’s plates is being pushed under another.
This type of fault creates the largest earthquakes and was responsible for the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster which almost wiped out Banda Aceh as well as the 2011 Japanese earthquake. Both of these events resulted in massive Tsunami waves as the epicentre was far out to sea.
Researchers warn that poorly designed buildings in Bangladesh will increase the death toll in an earthquake
However, the newly discovered megathrust fault has massive number of people living in close proximity – many of whom are packed into poorly designed and constructed buildings.
Dr Steckler said more than 140 million people live within 60 miles of the fault. Steckler told CNN, he fears the fault line may be active.
He said the fault was being filled by sediment from the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta which makes it difficult to study.
However, using the GPS data, he said they were able to ‘see the motion of the plates and the deformation around the fault due to the two sides being locked together’.
Steckler claimed a 8.2 to 9.0 earthquake would have a devastating effect on the tens of millions of people living nearby – even in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.
He said: ‘The strain is building up and will sometime be released by an earthquake.’
The researchers cannot predict when the earthquake will strike, but he said governments in the region should be ‘building more earthquake resistant structures’ while improving ‘planning to cope with relief and supplies for the people after an earthquake’.