Predicting and preparing for earthquakes in Turkey
The Sea of Marmara is at the centre of an earthquake zone, but little was known about its geological and geophysical structure prior to the 1999 earthquakes. They led to thousands of deaths, injuries and widespread damage, including the destruction of homes and industrial infrastructure.
There followed an international effort involving Turkey, France, Italy and the United States which resulted in a complete seismological map of the Marmara fold. By deploying ocean bottom seismometers, eight international research vessels were able to monitor the Marmara Sea fault over a number of years and develop a picture of the seismic activity. With this knowledge scientists were able to predict the strength of a predicted earthquake and forewarn authorities.
On the ground, this project was followed up with NATO-sponsored projects on risk analysis and contingency planning, which are particularly important for urban areas. Civil engineers and city planners were able to use the results to develop the type of buildings that could withstand future earthquakes.
Another NATO-sponsored project focused on increasing the resistance of buildings to earthquakes. The “Seismic Assessment and Rehabilitation of Existing Buildings” project provided engineers with the information they needed to decide if a building was likely to be safe in an earthquake or was potentially vulnerable to damage. With this knowledge they could introduce structural seismic safety features before an earthquake struck. New techniques and innovative materials have been developed such as special panels that can be inserted into existing buildings. They are cheaper and easier to install than traditional reinforced concrete infill walls.
Other NATO-sponsored projects have been undertaken such as the “New technology for seismic resistant construction” project finalised in 2010 and another, which is currently being pursued: “Seismic hazard and risk assessment for the southern Caucasus-Eastern Turkey energy corridor.”
While it is impossible to prevent an earthquake, these projects show that it is possible to prepare for one to minimise casualties and damage.