TEHRAN – After the February 6, 2023 earthquakes, Mw7.8 and Mw7.5 that caused severe damage in southern Turkey and northwest Syria, and more than 57,000 casualties, questions have been raised about the possibility of similar events occurring in Lebanon.
This part of western Asia is located at the intersection of three major tectonic plates (ie, the African, Arabian, and Eurasian plates). The seismicity of the eastern Mediterranean region is mainly associated with the northward movement of the Arabian plate.
The total displacement since the Oligocene is estimated to be 107 km, at an annual rate of about 5 mm over the last 7–10 million years. Some of the most significant earthquakes in West Asia have caused devastation in most of the countries in the region. The seismic zone and epicenters in the Gulf of Suez, Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon coincide with the Dead Sea Rift Zone.
Syria is located north of the Arabian plate in the main tectonic zone: the “Dead Sea fault system” is associated with the north-south glide strike fault system, the “Merides tectonic shear zone” is associated with recurrent folding, the northeast-southwest striking fault system and finally the “Euphrates system tectonic zone” which It is characterized by a regular fault system northwest and southeast. The most dangerous area in terms of earthquakes is concentrated in the northwestern part of Syria (i.e. the cities of Alexandretta, Latakia and Tartous).
The western regions of Syria (Idlib, Aleppo, Iskenderun, Latakia, Tartus, Daraa, as well as part of the regions of Hama) and the cities of Homs and Damascus, as well as some places in central Syria (Palmyra), are the main seismic zones in western Syria.
Jordan separates from the African Plate in the northwest of the Arabian Plate along the Aqaba Rift, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan Valley. This region moves along a left lateral slip along the Dead Sea Diversion Fault.
The Jordan Valley, a major part of the Dead Sea Diversion Fault, is the most seismically active region in Western Asia, with a four thousand year history of documented devastating earthquakes.
Lebanon is located along the Dead Sea fault system. The western part of Lebanon near the coastal area between Sidon and Tripoli, where most of Lebanon’s population and investments are concentrated, shows “high seismic hazards.”
The Dead Sea fault system consists of a series of 1,000 km long slip fault segments that form the continental boundary. This rift system spread between the Arabian and African plates from the Gulf of Aqaba, at the northern end of the Red Sea, to the Arab-Eurasian Collision, in southeastern Turkey.
This rift system transfers part of the divergence between the Arabian and African plates in the Red Sea, into a convergence movement between the Eurasian and Arabian plates.
The October 11, 1138 earthquake – with an estimated magnitude of 7.1 – is listed as the third deadliest earthquake in history, with reports stating that more than 200,000 people died in this quake.
On August 13, 1822, an important historical earthquake destroyed the city of Aleppo. A magnitude of 7.0 was estimated for this earthquake, which was felt over a wide area including Rhodes, Cyprus and Gaza. About 30,000 casualties were reported in this accident.
From the devastating earthquakes of the second millennium BC to the Jericho earthquake of 1927, there have been 21 earthquakes over the past millennia, which is about one every 45 years.
The most destructive of these are the earthquakes that occurred in 31 BC, 363, 749, and 1033 AD. The Syrian earthquakes of 1202 and 1759 are probably the strongest historical earthquakes in the region. Some earthquakes were accompanied by tsunamis – notably in 92 BC, 115, 306, 502, 551, 881, and 1202 AD.
The 846 earthquake severely damaged the Dome of the Rock (Dome of the Rock) and the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. In the earthquake of 1015, the Dome of the Rock collapsed due to the earthquake.
A series of earthquakes that occurred in 1033 for 40 days in the Jordan River Valley devastated Ramallah, Jericho, and Nablus and left 70,000 dead. In an earthquake in 1068, the earth in Wadi Araba was torn apart.
A recent strong earthquake of magnitude 6.5 occurred in 1989 in the Dead Sea fault area. A 90-kilometer section of the Jordan Rift south of Lake Kinneret could cause a magnitude 7 to 7.4 earthquake.
The July 9, 551 earthquake struck along the Lebanese coast near Beirut, with a magnitude of 7.2, a very large area in the eastern Mediterranean.
This earthquake was accompanied by a tsunami along the Lebanese coast, a landslide near the town of Batroun, and a major fire in Beirut. Severe destruction with loss of life occurred in several Lebanese cities, especially Beirut, with a maximum force of 10, which led to the movement along the Rom fault as a left strike move in southern Lebanon.
In the Bitlis tectonic line and East Anatolian Rift System, the Arabian plate collides with the Eurasian plate at an approximate velocity of about 4-6 mm per year.
The Dead Sea Rift System extends from the Gulf of Aqaba to the border between Syria and Turkey near Antakya. In Lebanon, it includes two major faults, the Yammouneh in the northeast-southwest direction in the western Bekaa Valley, and the Roum fault in southern Lebanon in the northwest-southeast direction, which extends to the city of Beirut. The northern part of the Yammuna fault is the Ghab fault and finally the East Anatolian fault system in northern Antakya.
The history of earthquakes in Lebanon clearly shows earthquakes 551 (Beirut coast) and 1202 (along the Yammouneh fault) and two events in 1759 AD (along the Rashayya fault and Sargaya fault).
All three of these events were determined to have a magnitude of 7.0 or greater and caused destruction in most coastal cities including Beirut, Tripoli, Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, as well as the ancient city of Baalbek. The Lebanese coast makes up 225 km out of a total of 600 km of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Lebanon is located near a 1,000 km fault in a rift system that stretches from the bottom of the Red Sea to the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey.
This fault system, the Levantine or Dead Sea fault system, controls major seismic activity in the eastern Mediterranean. Earthquakes in Lebanon, Palestine, western Syria, Jordan, and future earthquakes in the aforementioned areas and subsequent return earthquakes must be measured and studied thoroughly according to this fault system.
Mahdi Zaree is a professor at the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology.
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