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USGS Partners with Embassy to Unveil Major Afghan Earthquakes Study


On May 30 a major joint seminar with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was hosted at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C.

Last year saw the release of the USGS study on Oil & Gas Natural Resources in Northern Afghanistan. This latest event explaining the hazard risks of earthquakes in the country was opened by Ambassador Said T. Jawad and Mr. Alonzo Fulgham, COO of USAID. Opening remarks were followed by a full presentation by USGS Director Dr. Mark Meyers, who announced the official results of the study.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is located in a geologically active part of the world. Each year, Afghanistan is struck by moderate to strong earthquakes, and every few years, a powerful earthquake causes significant damage or fatalities. The seriousness of this hazard was poignantly demonstrated by the magnitude 7.6-magnitude earthquake on Oct. 8, 2005, in nearby Kashmir, Pakistan, that caused more than 80,000 fatalities and left an estimated four million people homeless. Without planning for the potential devastation that earthquakes can wreak, years of investment in restoration of Afghanistan infrastructure could be undermined in a matter of seconds.

To assist in this nation’s reconstruction efforts, USGS was commissioned by USAID and the Government of Afghanistan to develop a preliminary Seismic Hazard Map of Afghanistan. This report incorporates data from thousands of historical earthquakes, information about active faults, and models of how earthquake energy travels through the Earth’s crust to define expected levels of ground shaking throughout the country.

 “As Afghanistan rebuilds following decades of war and strife, new construction and development need to be designed to accommodate the strong shaking and related hazards posed by strong earthquakes,” said USGS Director Myers. “Future earthquakes are most likely to occur in areas of numerous historical earthquakes, so the seismically active areas generally have the highest hazard.”

Ambassador Said T. Jawad said, “For the last five years, the government of Afghanistan in partnership with the international community has undertaken the historic task of rebuilding our country’s devastated infrastructure. Today marks the completion of the preliminary Seismic Hazard Map of Afghanistan, a timely and crucial achievement for Afghanistan. The map will help us design new roads, much needed dams and power plants, even schools and clinics. Before Afghanistan was beset with war and violence, the Kabul seismic station (KBL) was a source of pride for Kabul University and one of the world’s premier seismograph stations. We are all grateful to USGS for helping us re-establish the KBL as one of the most modern seismograph stations in the region and a rehabilitated source of national pride.”

To help assess the hazard, the USGS used data from more than 12,700 earthquakes in the region. This was then augmented with a map of potentially active faults (sources of future earthquakes) by systematically examining satellite images of the entire country. These two datasets, together with information about how seismic energy spreads through the Earth, were then used to construct a seismic hazard map of the region.

One of the greatest hazards revealed on the new map is concentrated around the Chaman fault system, which is a major 850-km-long left-lateral strike-slip fault system that accommodates the differential motion between the Eurasian plates in Afghanistan and Pakistan; USGS geologists estimate slip rates along the Chaman fault system of 10 mm/yr or more. Near Kabul, the Paghman fault, part of the Chaman fault system, extends within 10 km of the west edge of the city. Geomorphic evidence shows that recent movement has occurred on the Paghman fault, and that this movement has been sustained through much of the Quaternary (past ~2 million years). 

The USGS, in cooperation with Kabul University and the Afghan Geological Survey, has also reestablished the Kabul seismic station (KBL) after a 20-year hiatus. This station is one of a few modern seismograph stations in the region, and data from it provide important new details about the location, size, and depth of earthquakes throughout Afghanistan and southern Asia.

Dr. Harley Benz, USGS seismologist and director of the National Earthquake Information Center, said, “Now that the KBL station is back online with modern digital equipment we can dramatically improve our detection of earthquakes in Afghanistan and reduce the time to report on events from the region.” The seismic station will also provide information that can be used to further improve future versions of the seismic hazard map. To access a copy of the USGS fact sheet, “Earthquakes Pose a Serious Hazard to Afghanistan,” log onto:

On May 29, President Hamid Karzai awarded two USGS scientists the Ghazi Mir Bacha Khan Superior State Medal.

Dr. P. Patrick Leahy, former acting director and associate director for geology at the USGS, and Dr. Jack Medlin, regional specialist for the Asia and Pacific region, have been honored for their leadership in helping to develop and implement a five-year plan to revitalize the natural resources sector in Afghanistan. “This medal is one of the highest awards the Afghanistan government can bestow upon a non-Afghanistan individual, and we are honoured that President Karzai has awarded it to two premier US Geological Survey scientists,” said USGS Director Mark Myers.

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