Today in History – December 7, 1988 – 6.9 earthquake destroys Armenia, Spitak and kills over 60,000. It is reported that the entire population of Spitak died in this devastating earthquake, making it one of the most deadly earthquakes in human history. Partial blame was placed on the substandard infrastructure in Soviet-era buildings. The Soviet response was to outlaw construction of any buildings higher than five stories in the area, but little was done in terms improving construction standards or retrofitting existing buildings in the area. According to the World Global Seismic Hazard Map (left image) organized by the United Nations, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Turkey and Georgia are situated in one of the most seismically active zones in the world. In August 199, Istanbul was hit by an earthquake of 7.4 magnitude, killing over 17,000 and injuring approximately 250,000. In December 2003, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit Bam, Iran with an estimated death tally of near 50,000. More recently an earthquake on October 2005, the Kashmir region in Pakistan and India lost over 75,00 lives and displaced millions. Historical records suggest the deadliest earthquake in history killed approximately 1.1 million people in Egypt and Syria. Alas, a comprehensive strategy for urban planning is still lacking in much of these area, according to Architect Pirouz Khanlou.
Observe from the worldwide earthquake hazard map (second from left, above) that the entire west coast of the Americas and areas of China and Japan are also in the “red hot zone” for earthquakes on the planet. It is estimated that in 1556 a quake hit the Chinese province of Shansi, killing over 830,000 people. More recently in 1976, a deadly earthquake of a magnitude 8.0 hit Tianjin, China. The official casualty figure issued by the Chinese government was 255,000 people.
Sometimes the deaths are due to the immediate earthquake movement, but to the secondary forces unleashed, such as mudslides, avalanches or tsunamis. For example, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake at Mount Huascaran, Peru, on May 21, 1970, caused a rock and snow avalanche that buried 2 towns, killing as many as 20,000 people. Fortunately, these disasters are not daily events. But this does lull us into a false sense of security. How many of us living in earthquake zones are adequately prepared? Have we retrofitted our homes up to the latest building code standards? Do we have a home emergency plan? Professionally, engineers play a major role in better understanding the prediction and impact of earthquakes, as well as developing safety standards, building guidelines, inspection technologies and urban plans for emergency response.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on earthquakes and seismic hazards. For related educational resources, visit the Civil Engineering Education, Geological Engineering Education, Construction Engineering Education, or Architectural Engineering Education community sites.
Also today in 1972, the first color photograph of Earth was captured (left photo above). I recall when these “blue marble” photos from Apollo 17 were made public. I was struck by the interconnectedness for all beings and countries on our planet. It was the first time that the south polar ice cap was made visible from space. Today these photos from space are being used for commercial applications, such as Google Earth, as well as for monitoring global warming and environmental concerns. Coincidentally, also launched today was the new map of the Antarctica from the LIMA (Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica) initiative in support of International Polar Year. For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on earth photos, Landsat, Antarctica and global warming. For related educational resources, visit the Environmental Engineering Education or the Geological Engineering Education community sites.