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Can the Bombing of Gaza Cause a Significant Earthquake, as Claimed by Frank Hoogerbeets?

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
11th November 2023
Can the Bombing of Gaza Cause a Significant Earthquake, as Claimed by Frank Hoogerbeets?
Frank Hoogerbeets claimed that the bombing of Gaza will cause an earthquake (X)

Dutchman Frank Hoogerbeets, who describes himself as a seismologist, despite the absence of any published research papers under his name on the internet, sparked controversy with a tweet posted on his X account a few days ago. He attached an image published by the Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights showing the size of the explosives thrown by the Israeli army on Gaza so far, comparing them to the destructive power of the "Little Boy" nuclear bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

Hoogerbeets wrote, "the world should force Israel to stop this madness. Regardless of the genocide against the Palestinians, this bombing will eventually have a significant seismic impact on the region and will lead to the acceleration of a major earthquake along the Dead Sea fault. This is human stupidity." However, to what extent is Hoogerbeets' statement scientifically accurate?

Can Explosions Cause an Earthquake?

In response to the question, "Can we use explosives to generate small earthquakes to prevent large earthquakes?" the United States Geological Survey answers, "No." The agency notes that even massive amounts of explosives do not induce earthquakes, even if small, and it may take hundreds and thousands of small earthquakes to equal one large earthquake if it could be triggered.

However, the agency states that a nuclear explosion can cause an earthquake and even a series of aftershocks. Nevertheless, earthquakes resulting from explosions are much smaller than the explosion itself, producing smaller and fewer aftershocks compared to a seismic event of similar size. The agency emphasizes that a nuclear explosion does not necessarily lead to earthquakes.

هل يمكن للانفجارات أن تتسبب بزلزال؟

And although the scale of the Israeli bombardment on Gaza has exceeded, in terms of explosive power, two nuclear bombs similar to those dropped on Hiroshima, it is the result of thousands of bombs and missiles launched over the course of a month, not concentrated in one place. Therefore, the energy released is distributed across multiple areas throughout Gaza, and it does not represent accumulated energy that leads to the critical point causing earthquakes, as in examples caused by massive nuclear explosions resulting in seismic events.

Professor Ken-Yab Chan, a Canadian physicist at the University of Toronto, states in a blog on the "ResearchGate" research platform that intense bombardment (using conventional weapons) cannot, under any circumstances, lead to local seismic activities comparable, even remotely, to those conducted through large-scale nuclear weapons tests (tens of thousands of tons of TNT), to some extent underground.

العالم الهولندي المثير للجدل يحذر من زلزال كبير سببه قصف غزة

On the other hand, Professor Qamyar Zaman, from the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering in Iran, says that bombardment creates seismic waves, "but here I would like to emphasize that unless it is nuclear bombardment, its magnitude is very small, and it will not be felt at a considerable distance. Even detecting it using wide-range seismic measurement devices will be problematic due to noise sources and the low signal-to-noise ratio."

Zaman added, "If you have a nuclear explosion on the surface, you will get higher power near the explosion site, but the attenuation will be much higher due to the loss of some of the energy to the atmosphere. The power of underground nuclear explosions ranges between 4-5 megatons, but this depends on the weight and type of the payload. Regarding earthquakes, no human-made weapon can cause an earthquake with a magnitude of 6 megatons or more because you would need thousands if not millions of tons of nuclear fissile materials. Moreover, no weapon can cause an error that leads to an earthquake in turn."

Gaza is Far From Seismic Activity Zones

It is worth noting that the largest earthquake ever measured from artificially induced explosions due to weapons was a magnitude 4.9 on the Richter scale. This resulted from the test of the Tsar Bomba nuclear bomb, which caused an explosion with a force of 50 megatons, over 3000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

In this context, the geology researcher at Curtin University in Australia, Jane Cunneen, wrote on The Conversation, a platform for researchers, that an earthquake of this size could cause local damage but would not affect the thickness of the Earth's crust as a whole. This means it would have no impact on tectonic plate movement.

صورة متعلقة توضيحية

Historical data from nuclear tests, mostly in the United States, show that earthquakes associated with explosions usually occur when the explosion's force is greater than 5 degrees on the Richter scale, 10 to 70 days after the tests, at depths of less than 5 kilometers, and closer than about 15 kilometers to the explosion site.

Recent studies suggest it is unlikely that nuclear tests would cause earthquakes more than 50 kilometers away from the test site. Considering that the explosive material is distributed over multiple areas in Gaza over several days and given that Gaza is over 100 kilometers away from the Dead Sea Fault, Hogerbeets' claim remains inconsistent with scientific facts.

المسافة بين غزة وفالق البحر الميت
The dstance between Gaza and the Dead Sea (Google Maps)

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