Hey, Ignore The ‘Big Quake’ Media Hype: Tremors CAN’T Be Predicted

·5-min read

Video Editor: Varun Sharma
Video Editor: Hera Khan

'Bigger Quake After Mini Jolts?', 'The Big One is Coming' or 'Major Earthquake May Rock Delhi-NCR Soon'...

No, these are not a satirical news headlines. They are real headlines, reflecting the question looming large in the minds of people living in Delhi-NCR; a big question a lot of the media is fanning – are we about to be hit by a really big and bad earthquake?

The simple answer to that is – no, we’re not.

And here is why – no one, not scientists, not politicians, not your favourite TV news anchor, not your neighbour, not your dad, not your pet cat.. No one can predict earthquakes.

Scientifically speaking, no one can certify that a big earthquake will happen tomorrow, nor can they certify that it will not. Unfortunately, we’re surrounded by headlines that mislead or only half inform us and we fall prey to that. So, let’s decode some headlines.

The Newsy Headlines

‘A low-intensity earthquake of magnitude 2.1 struck near Delhi today’ – This is the thirteenth earthquake to hit the national capital region in the last two months.

Well, the fact is that the earth experiences 1 million earthquakes a year that measure 2 on the richter scale, and a 1,00,000 that measure 3 on the richter scale and another 10,000 that measure 4 on the richter scale.

Simple maths will tell you therefore that Delhi and its surrounding areas, that India.. would have experienced not just 13 minor earthquakes in the last 2 months… but hundreds of them!

And not just in the last 2 months but every month, every week, every day, year after year. That is the nature of the earth. And none of these earthquakes that measure 2, 3, 4 or even 5 on the Richter scale are considered at all dangerous.

The Dramatic Headlines

'Pataal Lok SE AA Raha Hai Zalzala…' or 'Bhaari Khatre Mein Dilli Aur Poora Bharat'

That’s because Delhi is in Seismic Zone 4. Delhi is vulnerable to earthquakes just like much of east UP, parts of Punjab and Haryana, all of Uttarakhand, and Himachal, most of Kashmir, parts of Bihar, Bengal, Assam and Arunachal.

But this only means we are vulnerable, that we could have an earthquake measuring upto 6.5 on the richter scale. But it does not mean kal hoga! Ya.. kitna bada hoga.

For instance if a news anchor asked, “Kya yeh ek bada...major bhukamp ho sakta hain?

and the Geologist replied, “ Yes, Delhi could see a big earthquake… but…”

Before the geologist can explain further, media shuts him up. Stop. Thank you. I have my big scary headline –

‘Top Scientist Worried: Says Delhi CD Be Hit by a Big Earthquake Tomorrow’

But hang on. Suppose you had also asked him – “Can Delhi be hit by an Earthquake day after tomorrow or next month, or next year?”

He would say yes any of this is possible. If you had further asked him – “is this BIG earthquake more likely next month or next year?”

He would have said both are equally possible. But because this doesn’t give us that alarming headline we either don’t ask these important additional questions or simply bury the unsexy but more important information.

What Media Should Ask

In fact, here’s the most important question and the first question that media should be asking earthquake scientists – “Can you guys predict an earthquake?”

The answer will be “No”.

Ask again, “Can you predict a big earthquake?”

The answer will again be “No”.

And that’s the fact – while mankind has always been obsessed with trying to predict earthquakes for a very good reason to save as many lives, it’s true that this is one scientific puzzle that we have not yet cracked.

The Social Media Chatter

On Twitter and WhatsApp, there is a lot going around, and people are describing

Delhi’s many fault lines
OMG! Multiple quakes!
Get ready for the big one
What to pack in case of quake?
Why us? Why now?

Its possible that Yeh Jo India Hai Na.. may be feeling vulnerable right now.. because of our helplessness against COVID-19 that has killed over 8,000 people so far, our helplessness against the economic beating we’ve taken. Cyclones in Bengal, in Mumbai...

Just so much bad news, that we may be fearing the worst when we hear about tremors in Delhi. But let’s shake ourselves out of that, and go back to science, to the simple fact that these minor tremors are normal, hundreds of them happen every day below the earth’s surface. That’s how nature is.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na.. while it cannot predict when an earthquake can strike or where it may strike or how big it will be – what we could do is take long-term steps to secure ourselves.

For instance Delhi-NCR being in seismic zone 4, being 250-300 kilometers from the Himalayas, where earthquakes in the range of 7 and 8 on the richter scale do occur every few years, we should make sure, push builders and our governments to make sure that our homes, office buildings, malls, hospitals, schools are earthquake-resistant. And we should be aware of what to do in the event of an earthquake.

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