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Natural Hazards and Earthquakes in Turkey

Turkey is a country located in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia. The European or Balkan part of Turkey is relatively small compared to the Asian part, also called as the Anatolian Plateau, which is a large peninsula. Turkey has nearly 81 million habitants and is a predominantly mountainous country.

The seismic hazard map of Turkey. Source: Republic of Turkey, Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, AFAD.
Picture 1: The seismic hazard map of Turkey. Source: the Republic of Turkey, Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, AFAD

Due to its tectonic and geological structure, topography, and climatic features, Turkey has been severely affected by many natural hazards, mostly earthquakes, forest fires, and floods, which resulted in considerable loss of lives, injuries, and loss of property.

The number of people who lost their lives in Turkey during natural disasters that occurred in the last 70 years is around 100.000, while the number of damaged houses is approximately 600.000. Among them, for example, earthquakes annually cause a great damage: the number of houses affected by earthquakes by some means is around 500.000, 1000 people on average die, thousands get injured, and more than 7000 buildings get damaged1.

As a result of natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, avalanches, extreme winter conditions, storms, and fires, over 60.000 people died in Turkey since the beginning of the 20th Century, 35.000 people get injured, over 145.000 buildings were demolished, and over 1.350.000 buildings damaged1. The potential for the greatest capital loss due to natural hazards is the highest in Istanbul, Izmir, Kocaeli, and Bursa2.

 

Largest and Deadliest Earthquakes

Turkey is one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world, where thousands of earthquakes occur annually and cause significant damage.

Turkey has experienced 300,000 earthquakes since 2010. Associate professor Bülent Özmen, an earthquake engineering expert at Gazi University, says in the first seven months of 2021 alone, 15,196 earthquakes were recorded, including six around magnitudes of 5.0 and 6.05.

In Turkey, there are partly large earthquakes with strengths of more than 7.0, which cause damage within a radius of over 100 kilometers. Measured by the size of the country, earthquakes occur above average, but not excessively often.

The reason why Turkey is prone to earthquakes is because of its geographical location. Most of Turkey is located on the Anatolian tectonic plate, which sits between two major plates, the Eurasian and African, and a minor one, the Arabian. As the larger African and Arabian plates shift, Turkey is being literally squeezed, while the Eurasian plate impedes any northward movement3. Thus, Turkey sits on several fault lines, which makes it susceptible to earthquakes.


Picture 2: Tectonic plates around Turkey

 

It’s the North Anatolian fault line, where the Anatolian and Eurasian plates meet, that causes most devastating earthquakes in the country3. It runs from just south of Istanbul all the way to northeastern Turkey.

Turkey's deadliest earthquake since 1900 was of a magnitude 7.7 and occurred in 1939 in Erzincan. It caused more than 30.000 fatalities and over $300 million in damage2

The largest earthquake in Turkey occurred on 17th of August 1999, in the region of Istanbul, Kocaeli, Sakarya with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale. The shifting of tectonic plates in a depth of 39 km resulted in 17.118 deaths, affected over 1 million people, and caused close to $30 billion in damage4. It is the deadliest earthquake in Turkey in recent years. It also triggered a tsunami with further victims and destructions4. The last major earthquake, which hit Izmir in 2020 at a magnitude of 6.6, claimed 115 lives in the western province5.


Picture 3: 1999 earthquake in Turkey

Damage due to Earthquakes

Due to earthquakes Turkey often suffers a big economical loss. The annual average population affected by earthquakes in Turkey is around 1 million and the annual average affected GDP is $10 billion. The annual averages of fatalities and capital losses caused by earthquakes are around 1,000 and around $2 billion. However, the fatalities and economic losses caused by more intense, less frequent earthquake events can be larger than the annual averages. For example, an earthquake with a 0.4 percent annual probability of occurrence (a 250-year return period event) could cause around 80,000 fatalities and $60 billion in capital loss, which is around 8 percent of GDP2.

Conclusion

The 1999 earthquake was a big warning for Turkey to get prepared for another potential large earthquake and was followed by an overhaul of construction regulations and awareness campaigns. Some reinforced their houses against potential earthquakes while the government undertook an ambitious “urban transformation” campaign to demolish old buildings and replace them with sturdy ones5

In the biggest danger are bigger cities. The report by the Urban Transformation and Urbanization Foundation (KENTSEV) says, in the case of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Istanbul, 491,000 buildings will suffer damage: more than 13,000 among them will sustain the “heaviest damage”. The figures show more than 6 million people live in those buildings5

We can see that earthquakes affect Turkey in a big way and even though the country has improved earthquake resistance infrastructure and general preparedness, larger earthquakes could still cause big damage.

Quantectum’s Earthquake Forecasting Center is keeping a close eye on the seismic activity in Turkey and observing the activity of tectonic waves. They issue earthquake reports up to 64 days ahead and making great contributions to the field of earthquake forecasting. Welcome to also follow us on our social media channels.

 

Sources:
1) Aydin, Muhareem. 2016. Natural Disasters in Turkey and Natural Disaster Profile of Bursa. Accessed on 30-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.arcjournals.org/pdfs/ijhsse/v3-i4/1.pdf
2) GFDRR. 2015. Europe and Central Alisa (ECA) Risk Profiles: Turkey. Accessed on 02-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.gfdrr.org/sites/default/files/Turkey.pdf
3) Daily Sabah. 2021. Why is Turkey so prone to earthquakes? Accessed on 02-Sept-2022. Available at: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/why-is-turkey-so-prone-to-earthquakes/news
4) World Data. Earthquakes in Turkey. Accessed on 02-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.worlddata.info/asia/turkey/earthquakes.php#:~:text=The%20strongest%20earthquake%20in%20Turkey,with%20further%20victims%20and%20destructions.
5) Daily Sabah. 2021. Major Earthquakes in Store for Istanbul, Turkey, Experts Warn. Accessed on 02-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/istanbul/major-earthquakes-in-store-for-istanbul-turkey-experts-warn 

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