Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Volcanoes in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia earthquake.jpg

The Middle East is home to several underground fault lines, the biggest of which is the Dead Sea System in Lebanon, which separates the African and Asian plates. However, another fault line far out in the Red Sea is causing tremors 200km away in Saudi Arabia.

In May 2009, a ‘failed’ eruption led to over 30,000 earthquakes ripping through Saudi Arabia. Most of these were too small to be felt, but one of them scored 5.7 on the Richter Scale, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

The earthquakes took place in Harrat Lunayyir in northwest Saudi Arabia, opening an 8-kilometre-long fissure in the desert. The government evacuated 40,000 residents as buildings cracked in a nearby town. Scientists do not think there is an increased danger of volcanic eruption or for larger earthquakes, however.

The Dead Sea System fault line in Lebanon caused a massive earthquake in 1759, killing 40,000 people in Lebanon and Syria. Seismologists predict that earthquakes along the fault line would occur every 250 to 300 years, which would mean we are due to another earthquake there soon. Today Beirut is a high-rising city, several times bigger than what it was like 250 years ago. Another earthquake could be devastating.

Unfortunately, there is not enough seismic research taking place in the region to prepare for these dangers. The Saudi Geological Survey from the National Center for Earthquakes and Volcanoes has expanded its volcano monitoring and research programme, so this is definitely a good start.

Now hopefully, this will pave the way for more regional collaborative work across the region. The way the busy cities of the Middle East are laid out, none are safe from the catastrophic effects of an eruption of lava or a major earthquake. Since the Earth’s crust itself doesn’t know about our laid borders, it is only safe to assume that cross-border seismic research is the best bit to save lives and prevent unnecessary damage.

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