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Today’s 5.9M Quake in Afghanistan a Precursor to Bigger One?

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit Hindu Kush mountains in northern Afghanistan on Monday, as recorded by the US Geological Survey with the tremors felt as far away as Kashmir and Delhi.

The epicentre was 224 kilometers (140 miles) deep near the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow strip between Tajikistan and Pakistan. Just two years ago in 2013, a similar 5.6-magnitude earthquake killed 13 people and destroyed several homes in the area.

The Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates, is prone to earthquakes and fears are abound that today’s earthquake was merely a pre-cursor to a greater earthquake that might hit the region.

Map showing extent (w,s,e,n) = (66.2009, 31.5199, 76.2009, 41.5199)

Location: 36.520°N 71.201°E depth=224.0 km (139.2 mi)


According to USGS data, in 1505, a segment of the Chaman fault near Kabul in Afghanistan ruptured causing huge destruction. The more recent 30 May 1935 earthquake measuring 7.6 magnitude Quetta earthquake killed 30,000 and 60,000 people.

Some models suggest the presence of two subduction zones — the Indian plate being subducted beneath the Hindu Kush while the Eurasian plate being subducted beneath the Pamir region. “However, other models suggest that just one of the two plates is being subducted and that the slab has become contorted and overturned in places,” says the USGS brief on the region.

Deep earthquakes measuring 200km and above in depth have been recorded in the region thought to be due to the subduction of the eastwards dipping of India plate, says USGS.

Today’s earthquake being 224 km depth, it reiterates the belief that Hindu Kush Pamir region has lithospheric body at depth that causes tectonic movements causing earthquakes.

While regional stress associated with the collision of the India and Eurasia plates are responsible for faulting in the region, the three major earthquakes (>M7.6) at the start of the 20th Century, has an active right-lateral, strike-slip fault system, says the USGS study.

Though the system has produced no major earthquakes in the last 250 years, USGS has cited some paleo-seismic studies to indicate that the region has the potential to produce M7.0+ earthquakes and concludes that “it is thought to represent a significant hazard.”

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