July 11, 2016 - 4:15 PM EDT
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Scientists predict massive earthquake building beneath Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh, July 11 (UPI) --

According to new research, there is tension growing in the fault system created by the two tectonic plates that meet beneath Bangladesh.

The tectonic boundary at the world's largest river delta is of the subduction variety, the type of plate boundary that produces Earth's most devastating earthquakes.

Until now, scientists thought Bangladesh was insulated from the wealth of seismic activity going on in India, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. The plate boundary beneath Bangladesh was thought to host mostly horizontal slippage.

New analysis of surface-level ground movement proves the boundary zone features subduction.

The newly identified subduction zone is part of the much broader tectonic boundary that defines much of southern Asia.

As the plate forming India and the Indian Ocean slides beneath Asia, it created the Himalayas. And it continues to create a complex system of faults. An improved understanding of this tectonic boundary has revealed Bangladesh to be an axis point for this ongoing collision, with Asia being pushed clockwise around the apex of the Bay of Bengal.

The most obvious effects of this contorted collision are seen in Myanmar, but the latest research shows tectonic stress among the fault lines beneath Bangladesh are growing, too.

That's bad news, scientists say.

Bangladesh is overpopulated everywhere, Syed Humayun Akhter, a geologist at Dhaka University, said in a news release. All the natural gas fields, heavy industries and electric power plants are located close to potential earthquakes, and they are likely to be destroyed. In Dhaka, the catastrophic picture will be beyond our imagination, and could even lead to abandonment of the city.

Akhter is the co-author of a new study outlining the potential for a catastrophic quake in Bangladesh. The study was published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Akhter and his colleagues say much more work needs to be done to better understand the geometry of Bangladesh's fault system. Information on the system's history is also lacking. Without a historical pattern of quakes, it's difficult to estimate when the next major fault slippage might occur.

Despite the uncertainty, scientists say there's no question the tectonic strain beneath the region is growing.

We don't know how long it will take to build up steam, because we don't know how long it was since the last one, said lead study author Michael Steckler, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. We can't say it's imminent or another 500 years. But we can definitely see it building.

Source: United Press International (July 11, 2016 - 4:15 PM EDT)

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