Lurking Under Bangladesh: The Next Great Earthquake?

by |July 13, 2011

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After the recent great quakes that have swept away entire coastlines and cities in Japan, Haiti and Sumatra, scientists are now looking hard at the nation that may suffer the gravest threat of all: Bangladesh. A new documentary from the Earth Institute follows seismologists as they trace signs of deeply buried active faults, past movements of the earth, and sudden, catastrophic river-course changes.

With more than 160 million people, Bangladesh is the most crowded place on earth, and one of the poorest–and it is growing fast. It sits on the world’s largest river delta, close to sea level, which exposes it to tsunamis and the possibility of rivers jumping their banks in the event of earthquake. And, it is furiously putting up bridges and multistory buildings that increase its vulnerability. Scientists have come to recognize that it sits at the juncture of several active tectonic plate boundaries–including the tail end of the one that caused the 2004 Sumatra tsunami that killed over 200,000 people, 1,300 miles south. Syed Humayun Akhter, a seismologist at the Dhaka University Earth Observatory, warns that an earthquake near the crowded capital could dwarf other modern tragedies.

This year saw the start of a five-year, $5 million project to chart the hazards, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education program. Led by seismologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in conjunction with Dhaka University, the team includes specialists from Vanderbilt University, the University of Minnesota and Queens College, and researchers in Germany, Italy and India. The scientists have been upgrading a network of seismometers that registers tiny tremors far below. This allows them to better map active faults buried under as much as 12 miles of sand and mud laid down by the mighty rivers that drain the Himalayas. They are also drilling some 250 wells near riverbeds to take sediment samples. These, they hope, will reveal the scope and timing of past earthquakes and river-course shifts that may have wiped out large swaths of countryside–though at times when population and infrastructure were far less dense. The goal is to give Bangladeshi scientists and leaders the tools they need to understand, and minimize, the risks.

Seismologist Leonardo Seeber inspects sediments along a riverbank in northern Bangladesh

“Like the great delta on which Bangladesh is confined, we find ourselves at a strategic confluence between earth science, natural hazard engineering and international relations,” says Leonardo Seeber, a Lamont seismologist working on the project. This month, Lamont seismologist Michael Steckler, the project’s lead investigator, was in Washington to help launch a new program run jointly by NSF and the U.S. Agency for International Development designed to advance such collaborations with developing countries. “This partnership will help particularly with the application of science, technology and innovation to accelerate global development, with huge benefits for industrialized and developing countries alike,” said John P. Holdern, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, speaking at the event.

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Read a Science magazine article on the threat

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20 thoughts on “Lurking Under Bangladesh: The Next Great Earthquake?

  1. Disha says:

    Hope this news not to be true.

  2. iqbal says:

    This is nice to see science at work.With all such knowledge we will definitely upgrade and update our capability to meet such disaster.

  3. SMR says:

    If this is going to be in real..Then we are in danger…This is the time to wake up! signal for us and our government also…May Allah save us…

  4. Maruf Ahmed says:


  5. Fakrul Islam says:

    I am really afraid to get at the news about Earth Quake . Allah,save the Bangladesh…………………

  6. Raisur Rahman says:

    We have to aware about this. The way we are destroying our rivers and nature……….if we continues like that nature will definitely do something in return………..

    Allah may save us.

  7. Zorro says:

    It wont stop bangladesh…

    One leader will ask the earthquake for a bribe if it wants to go off in bangladesh…

    The other will will invite it to come quickly so she can call it the great b@ng@b@ndhu earthquake…

  8. Mahbubur Rashid says:

    Earthquake may hit in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Myanmar if tectonic movement hit geologic plate each other. Thanks Dr. Humayun Akhter (DU)for your hard work. Please do something to aware the world to save our generation in Bangladesh.

  9. John Halder says:

    Lots of talk, seminars, conferences, knowledge sharing. Now its time to act.

  10. Imtiaz Ahmed Khan says:

    We need more reserach and stady to understand and how to overcome this problems….The educated peoples intregrated with the social awarness group should be work together to solve the problems….

    The Almighty ALLAH help us….

  11. Arafat Kabir says:

    This is really incredible. I really agree with the seismologist that both national,international and modern scientific precaution can help us minimize this loss.
    Nevertheless, I am pretty sure this ominous warning can not wake our leaders up in time unless there is a devastation.In this regard, I want to suggest this school to contact Bangladesh Government via the US Department of States.If Department of States comes forward, Bangladesh government can take some measures that they should have taken a long before.

    Apart from this, young generation like us will also help create mass awareness.

    Anything else should you convey us, please feel free to do so.

  12. Biplob says:

    Actually we the human beings are the architect of this pleasant moment!Until death we will never stop from manipulating our environment as our desire is aimless.

  13. kingbekong says:

    I just felt a tremor this morning. this is do depressing. Dhaka is already a dead city and now this..

  14. Sajid says:

    Just today I felt that the news above is going to be true. Major earthquake jolt Bangaldesh. Magnitude was 6.9 on scale & duration was 3-4 minutes.
    Allah Save Us.

  15. Taznuva says:

    Just yesterday [ September 18th 2011 ] during evening 7:43 pm an earthquake stroke Bangladesh with huge jolts and 6.8 magnitude, which is the highest in 7 years history of earthquakes in Bangladesh! The epicenter is from India, Nepal [Sikkim] which far proves more earthquakes will occur from India, Nepal, Myanmar which are close to Bangladesh & we will suffer their shocks! Pray to God, there is no saving from the natural calamities of our mother nature!

    Thankyou! <3

  16. ashiq says:

    which is the highest in last 60years not 7years..withn 2012 ist gnna happen..2012 year is gnna really a big deadly year in sure..i world gnna going down and have sunami .lyk 2012 movie..its nt fake i think its reall gnna happen with our world

  17. Rafiqul Wahed says:

    It’s ALLMIGHTY ALLAH who save everybody from such a disaster..none else, it’s HIS rahmat which bestowed on the living persons after such ‘zalzalla’.There is mention of this zalzalla in our Holy Quran by which Allah SWT give punishment on those section/trbe/group of people who disbelieve ALLAH swt as creator. May ALLAH swt be kind enough not to give us such a punishment.

  18. Caitlin says:

    I haope this isn’t true either, but I’ll pray to my god to help yall

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