East Anatolian Fault behind devastating Turkey earthquake. What you need to know

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadFeb 07, 2023 | 10:33

East Anatolian Fault behind devastating Turkey earthquake. What you need to know

Building debris in Turkey after earthquakes on Monday. Photo: Getty Images

Turkey and Syria have been devastated by three major earthquakes in the past 24 hours. The three earthquakes measuring 7.8, 7.6, and 6.0 magnitude on the Richter scale have turned buildings into dust and killed at least 3,800 people across the two countries so far. 

Thousands more have been injured and the death toll is feared to climb. Rescuers are digging through rubble with bare hands; families are waiting for their buried loved ones to be safely rescued, while scores of survivors have been left homeless in the biting winter. 

We thought it was the apocalypse...
- AFP quoted Melisa Salman, a reporter from Turkey

Syria's National Earthquake Centre's head, Raed Ahmed, called it: 

The biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the centre.

In Turkey's record, Monday's earthquake was as strong as the strongest one ever recorded in 1939. The tremors were felt as far as Lebanon, Israel, and even Denmark and Greenland. 

But what exactly resulted in such a strong earthquake according to science? 

  • Turkey is one of the most seismically active areas in the world. Earthquakes are common, though severe quakes are less frequent. 
  • You must have heard of tectonic plates that lie on top of the earth's mantle and beneath our feet. There are 7 major tectonic plates and some 20-15 moving ones in total. 
Tectonic plates of the world. Photo: Open Geology
  • The earth is constantly shifting. The massive slabs of the earth's crust are moving past, against and on top or below each other. 
  • An earthquake takes place when these slabs of the earth's crust suddenly move against each other. 

Turkey's location on the tectonic plates:

  • Turkey sits on the Anatolian plate which is wedged between two major plates - the African and Eurasian plates. And towards the east lies the Arabian plate and on the southwest lies the Aegean sea plate. 

Refer to this map: 

Photo: Radar Weather
  • Turkey is sitting wholly on top of a tectonic plate which is pushed against almost all sides and some say it is almost rotating counterclockwise due to the pressure and friction. 
  • The recent earthquakes occurred in the most sensitive areas of the tectonic plates - on the East Anatolian Fault, which is sitting vertically next to the Arabian plate.
  • A fault is the fracture line or zone of fractures between two tectonic plates. Reports say the recent earthquake was due to a strike-slip fault.
  • A strike-slip fault occurs when a vertical fracture appears when two plates move horizontally, according to the USGS.

This video shows how a strike-slip fault occurs:

  • So, it is likely that the Anatolian plate and Arabian plate were pushing against each other across the East Anatolian Fault, when one day the pressure and friction building up resulted in one of them slipping in a horizontal motion triggering an earthquake. 
  • The epicentre of the earthquake was about 33 km from Gaziantep on the East Anatolian Fault.

The star is where the epicentre is located: 

Screengrab: Radar Weather YouTube

Turkey announced a Level 4 alert requesting international aid. The US, EU, Ukraine, Russia, and Azerbaijan have reportedly dispatched help. 


While our technology enables us to predict where earthquakes are most likely to happen, answering the when remains murky. 

Last updated: February 07, 2023 | 10:33
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