Geologists warn of post-quake landslides in Nepal

A Nepalese volunteer and member of the security forces carry tents to be distributed in Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

Kate Ravilious, who has been reporting for Cosmos on the tricky-to-predict geology in Nepal and Northern India that led to the catastrophic earthquake there this week, has been looking at the next threat to the survivors of the quake – landslides.

For large earthquakes like this, landslides can be as deadly as the quake itself, causing up to half of the casualties, she writes in New Scientist.

Experts are rushing to assist, analysing satellite images and trying to work out where might be affected so they can manage and prevent any further landslides.

"The real worry at the moment is the places we haven't heard from. I'm expecting that landslides are likely to have blocked roads and caused real devastation in some of these more isolated valleys," says Alex Densmore, a landslide expert at Durham University, UK, and a member of Earthquakes without Frontiers, a partnership of institutions working on seismic risks around the world. Preliminary shake maps have enabled scientists to estimate landslide probability across the region, giving some indication of the areas most at risk.

One of the biggest concerns is temporary dams that can build up when a landslip blocks a river's natural course.

"Once the monsoon rains arrive in mid to late June, these dams will fill very quickly and fail within a matter of days, flooding the valley below," explains Densmore. In the weeks following the immense Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008, the Chinese were very efficient at getting diggers in to the biggest landslides and removing the worst dams, thereby avoiding further catastrophe. "I'm not sure if Nepal has the capacity to do this, but our first priority will be to pass on information about these temporary dams to our colleagues in Nepal," says Densmore.

Latest Stories
MoreMore Articles