Historical analysis predicts Middle East earthquake


An Israeli geologist says there is a strong risk of a major earthquake in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and surrounding areas, writes ALASDAIR SOUSSI

AS IF the Middle East wasn’t in enough difficulty, an eminent Israeli scientist has warned that another, geological-based disaster could hit the region in the very near future.

Research carried out by Dr Shmulik Marco, an academic at the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at Tel Aviv University, has suggested that an earthquake of at least the same magnitude as those which recently devastated Haiti and parts of Chile is a real threat to Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the surrounding area.

“A strong earthquake in the Holy Land might well be imminent,” says Marco, a visiting professor at the Department of Earth Sciences at England’s Durham University. “After a period of major earthquakes about every 400 years (in roughly the first millennium) we’ve had a period of 1,000 years of no significant earthquakes, and this is what’s making me worried.”

Marco, who has many years of experience documenting past earthquakes in the Middle East, has used a combination of scientific and historical research to show that the Holy Land is due an earthquake of potentially epic proportions.

Based on the translations of hundreds of documents, all written in either Latin, Greek or Arabic, and sourced from the Vatican and other religious institutions, Marco managed to establish that the Holy Land was subject to several major earthquakes – of magnitude seven or above – in the years 31BC, AD363, AD749 and AD1033, and although this 300-year to 400-year trend ended there, it was a pattern which sat uneasily with Marco himself. “We know that earthquakes happen where they have happened before, so their location shouldn’t come as any surprise,” he says. “In our research we wanted to ask whether there was any pattern to their occurrence and what we could learn from past earthquakes.

“From that, we wanted to learn about two things: first, about the phenomena itself, and second, assess the hazard or risk to human life. For [geologists], the earthquakes are just like the noise or beat of the earth, just like a doctor who uses a stethoscope to listen to your body. And from my geological observations, where I examined the fine laminated sediments, which had been disrupted by earthquakes near the Dead Sea fault in the past, I managed to corroborate the historical accounts . . . which made it clear that all of us in the region should be worried.”

The four major earthquakes which Marco unveiled occurred along the Jordan Valley and were accounted for in the many ancient letters and reports, which the Tel Aviv-based geologist used to piece together his clues.

Written by monks and clergy, in monasteries, churches and even by hermits in the desert, the documents, many in the form of correspondence to Europe requesting funding for church repairs and other such necessities, were deciphered by an international team of historians whose assistance, says Marco, proved crucial to his findings.

Major earthquakes in the Middle East have been frequent in recent decades, with Iran in particular the location of many seismic incidents, not least the major 2003 tremor in the ancient desert city of Bam, which claimed over 26,000 lives. “If you take a piece of rubber between your two hands and you start to stretch it, you know that sooner or later it will snap,” explains Marco. “But, you never know exactly when it will happen, but you know that the longer that you pull your hands apart the chances for it to snap are larger.

“This is exactly the same as the Earth . . . and with no major earthquakes in the Holy Land for 1,000 years, after a period of them happening every 400 years, that means that it is stretched more than it used to be before. And that is concerning.”