A French expert has issued a warning about potential aftershocks in Morocco following a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 that struck on Friday, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 2,012 lives and leaving 2,059 individuals injured, with over 1,000 in critical condition.
The earthquake’s epicenter was located in the southwest of Marrakech, within the High Atlas mountains. This event caused significant damage to historic buildings in the nearest city to the epicenter, with the worst-affected areas situated in the nearby mountainous regions.
Philippe Vernant, a specialist in active tectonics at the University of Montpellier, emphasized that Morocco is a country prone to earthquakes, and the question is not if but when they will occur. He pointed to historical earthquakes, such as the devastating Agadir earthquake in 1960 (magnitude 5.7) that resulted in the destruction of the entire city and the tragic loss of nearly 15,000 lives.
More recently, there was the Al Hoceima earthquake in 2004 (magnitude 6.4), further along the Mediterranean coast. Looking further back, there were significant earthquakes in the 18th century, estimated at around magnitude 7, in the Fez region.
While the recent earthquake’s epicenter was not in the most seismically active area of Morocco, it occurred in the High Atlas mountains, which have been shaped by similar seismic activity in the past.
Comparing the Moroccan earthquake to those in Turkey, Vernant highlighted differences in the type of movement. In Turkey, earthquakes often involve horizontal movement as the country shifts towards Greece due to tectonic plate motion. In Morocco, the earthquake is a result of convergence between Africa and Eurasia (or Iberia, the Spanish part) with overlapping faults, still occurring at plate boundaries.
The intensity of the Morocco earthquake is significant, with a magnitude of 6.8 or 6.9, leading to substantial ground displacement along the fault line, resulting in widespread shaking of the region. Additionally, the earthquake’s depth plays a crucial role, initially estimated at 25-30 kilometers but later adjusted to around 10 kilometers. Shallow earthquakes, like the one in Morocco, have a more pronounced impact on the surface and can cause more severe damage.
Regarding aftershocks, Vernant emphasized that they are likely to occur, even if they are of lesser intensity. Aftershocks can pose a significant risk to buildings already weakened by the initial earthquake. While it’s traditionally believed that aftershocks decrease in intensity over time, there is a possibility that one earthquake could trigger another through a cascade effect, as observed in Turkey, potentially resulting in a stronger subsequent earthquake.
Unfortunately, predicting earthquakes remains a challenge, as experts can estimate recurrence periods based on various magnitudes of past earthquakes, but the behavior of seismic activity can be unpredictable, with periods of relative quiet followed by intense seismic events.