21.12.2010 - UNESCO Office in Kathmandu

Earthquake monitoring stations to be installed in Nepal

Map showing the active faults in Nepal and proposed study area

UNESCO plans to establish a network of multiparametric earthquake monitoring stations in and around Kathmandu Valley to improve earthquake prediction.

Once operational, the monitoring stations will study variations in the concentration of certain gases in the soil, such as radon (Rn), helium (He), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2) and methane (CH4), tell-tale signs of heightened geological activity. The stations will also monitor changes in water pressure in aquifers using piezometers and carry out electromagnetic and geomagnetic studies to help detect signs of stress underground. The statistical data collected will then be analysed and anomalies computated to determine when the next earthquake might strike. 

Nepal has a long history of destructive earthquakes. In 1934, an earthquake destroyed 20% of buildings in the Kathmandu Valley and one-quarter of those in the capital city. A large earthquake in or near Kathmandu Valley today would cause much greater losses than in the past. With a population of almost 1.5 million today, the valley is becoming increasingly vulnerable to earthquakes with each passing year. The 1934 earthquake was not an isolated event. The seismic record of the region, which extends back to 1255, suggests that earthquakes of the magnitude of the one in 1934 occur approximately every 75 years. This suggests that Nepal is ‘due’ for a major earthquake in the near future. 

A recent loss estimation study conducted by the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) and GeoHazards International indicates that the next major earthquake to affect Kathmandu Valley could cause tens of thousands of deaths. Damage to housing, businesses, public buildings, utilities and transportation networks would run into the millions of US dollars. 

Nepal is vulnerable to earthquakes because the northward movement of the Indian plate is approximately perpendicular to the Himalayan collision belt. Studies over the past 40 years indicate that this movement is exerting a compressive stress in some transverse faults in the region, heightening the risk of an earthquake. 

The preparatory phases of the project are being steered jointly by UNESCO’s offices in Kathmandu and New Delhi, with strong collaboration from the competent authorities in Nepal and India.

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