Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Turkey earthquake: Why the country is such a hot spot for seismic activity

Turkey earthquake does not surprise seismologists. Turkey is, in effect, caught in a geophysical vise between the Arabian plate, inching northward, and the Eurasian plate, the immovable object.

By Staff writer / October 24, 2011

A Turkish soldier stands guard as rescuers search for survivors in the debris of a building destroyed in Sunday's earthquake, in Ercis, eastern Turkey, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011. Distraught Turkish families mourned outside a mosque Monday as rescue workers scoured debris for survivors after a 7.2-magnitude quake killed nearly 300 people.

Burhan Ozbilici/AP


As rescuers search through rubble hunting for survivors following Sunday's magnitude 7.2 earthquake in eastern Turkey, scientists describe a country whose landscape continues to be sculpted and herded by ever-shifting plates of Earth's crust.

Skip to next paragraph

The quake's epicenter was situated some 10 miles east of Lake Van, a salt lake that covers 1,450 square miles. Seismologists estimate that the crust ruptured some 12 miles below the surface.

Authorities say the city of Erciş may have been the hardest hit. Located about nine miles east of the epicenter, the city of some 75,000 people saw 80 multiple-story buildings collapse, according to press reports. The city of Van, on the eastern shore of the lake, also saw many homes and buildings crumble. The death toll throughout the region from the quake stands at 272 so far.

IN PICTURES: Turkey earthquake

The region is no stranger to strong earthquakes; it sits atop one of the most seismically active spots in the world, researchers say.

In essence, Turkey is a block of crust caught in a geophysical vise between the Arabian plate, which is inching north at a rate of about one inch per year, and the Eurasian plate, which, relatively speaking, represents the immovable object.

"Everything that is happening to Turkey is the result of the Arabian Peninsula smashing its way into Turkey, Iran, and Iraq," explains Russ Stein, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., who has worked in the region.

The features driving this slow-motion crumpling sit beneath the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Both host mid-sea ridges that run along their lengths. Along the ridges, new crust is welling up and spreading to either side. This spreading gives the Arabian plate its northern push.

The Arabian Peninsula has fellow travelers on either side: the African and Indian plates, which also are migrating north. The trio is responsible for building the arc of mountains that run from the Alps in Europe to the Himalayas.

And like the Indian subcontinent, which is sliding under the Tibetan plateau, the Arabian plate is behaving in a similar manner.

To plate-tectonics aficionados, this might sound like a subduction zone – plate boundaries where denser ocean crust is diving beneath more-buoyant continental crust. In this case, however, Turkey and the Arabian plate are both cut from the same geologic cloth: both consist of crustal rock.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story