Mount Everest Moves 1 Inch After Earthquake

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Mount Everest Moves 1 Inch After Earthquake

The incredible energy unleashed by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 moved Mount Everest more than an inch.

The devastating Nepal earthquake lifted the land near Kathmandu about 3 feet (1 meter) while Mount Everest seems to have shrunk, according to before-and-after radar images of the area taken by a European satellite. Here’s a look at the Nepal images.

Before and after

Interferogram of Kathmandu, Nepal, before and after the earthquake.

 European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel-1a radar satellite passed over Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday (April 29). By comparing radar scans taken on April 17 with the new ones, scientists revealed deformation of about an inch (3 centimeters), indicating ground motion of 3 feet or more. They used a technique called an interferogram, with the resulting rainbow-colored images indicating ground movement between the two dates. Each colorful “fringe” represents vertical movement of about an inch. (Image Credit: Contains Copernicus data (2015)/ESA/DLR Microwaves and Radar Institute/GFZ/e-GEOS/INGV–ESA SEOM INSARAP study)

The world’s tallest mountain shifted 1.18 inches (3 centimeters) to the southwest during the quake, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper, which cited a new report by China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation.

The shift was a small leap back for the mountain, which has been creeping northeastward at a rate of about 1.5 inches (4 cm) a year, the agency reported. The mountain also rises about 0.1 inch (0.3 cm) each year. This motion is caused by the slow, grinding collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, which pushes the ground upward.

Moving up

Nepal InSAR

 By analyzing the satellite images, the researchers found a swath of land measuring 75 miles long by 30 miles wide (120 kilometers by 50 kilometers) lifted upward by up to 3 feet during the magnitude-7.8 temblor that killed more than 4,000 people. (Image Credit: ESA SEOM InSARap Study – Norut/PPO.labs/Univ Leeds)

But Everest’s movement during the quake was small potatoes compared with the shifting of regions around Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital during the quake.

“Everest is kind of like a distraction from the whole story,” said Richard Briggs, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Golden, Colorado.

Mountains shift

Nepal InSAR

 The German Aerospace Center (DLR) used the satellite radar data to create a regional aid map and calculate how the ground shifted during the earthquake. In the DLR map, areas that moved upwards are blue and regions that dropped down (away from the satellite) are coded yellow and red. In additional to vertical movements, the researchers also detected north-south horizontal shifts of nearly 7 feet (2 meters). (Image credit: DLR/EOC)

 

Major motion

Near Kathmandu, the quake lifted the ground by about 3 feet (1 meter), according to preliminary data from Europe’s Sentinel-1A radar satellite. Damage from the quake covered more than 5,600 square miles (over 14,000 square kilometers). More than 8,000 people died.

This side-by-side comparison shows Mount Everest before and after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25, 2015.

This side-by-side comparison shows Mount Everest before and after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25, 2015.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The earthquake deformed the ground into a sort of a welt, Briggs told Live Science. Areas above the slipping fault, where the stress of the continental collision finally gave, pushed upward. This happened, for example, to Kathmandu. Meanwhile, farther north, behind the fault slip, the ground abruptly dropped.

“Everest is way out on the edge of that possible downward trough,” Briggs said. Preliminary satellite data from Sentinal-1A had suggested the mountain dropped an inch (2.5 cm) during the quake, but the Chinese agency reported no loss of height. Everest aside, the Himalayas were undeniably affected, Briggs said: About 60 miles (100 km) of mountain range north of Kathmandu dropped significantly.

Rainbow fringes

Interferogram of Kathmandu, Nepal, before and after the earthquake.

 The Sentinel-1A interferogram (created by combining radar images taken on April 17 and April 29) over Kathmandu, Nepal. The colors show deformation in the earth caused by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The east–west “fringes” cross the city, with each colored fringe representing about an inch of ground displacement, from both uplift and subsidence. (Image Credit: Contains Copernicus data (2015)/R. Grandin/IPGP/CNRS)

 

“What moved this time was closer to Kathmandu,” Briggs said. “And those peaks, which are just a little bit smaller than Everest, moved over half a meter [more than 1.6 feet].”

Active region

A 7.3-magnitude aftershock rocked the region on May 12, triggering new landslidesand killing dozens of people. That aftershock did not shift Everest, according to China’s mapping agency. Hundreds of smaller aftershocks have continued in the region, according to the USGS.

The quakes in Nepal are not unusual, geologically speaking. According to the USGS, the Indian plate is crunching into the Eurasian plate at a rate of 45 millimeters (1.8 inches) per year. The Indian plate slides under the Eurasian plate at a very shallow angle, Briggs said. The arrangement is similar to the undersea subduction zones off of Alaska and Japan, where one continental plate pushes under another. Lessons from those regions, as well as geological evidence of past quakes in the Himalayas, reveal that the fault is capable of quakes larger than magnitude 7.8, Briggs said. [In Photos: Hiking the Himalayas]

Near the Tibetan Plateau

Combining two Sentinel-1A radar scans from 17 and 29 April 2015, this interferogram shows changes on the ground that occurred during the 25 April earthquake that struck Nepal.

 Combining two Sentinel-1A radar scans from 17 and 29 April 2015, this interferogram shows changes on the ground that occurred during the 25 April earthquake that struck Nepal. An overall area of 120×100 km has moved – half of that uplifted and the other half, north of Kathmandu subsided. Vertical accuracy is a few cm. (Image Credit: Contains Copernicus data (2015)/ESA/Norut/PPO.labs/COMET–ESA SEOM INSARAP study)

 

It’s impossible, however, to predict when such a quake might occur, or whether April’s quake influenced the chances of a later temblor.

“Movement on this fault will have affected nearby faults, and some of the faults will be promoted closer to failure [causing a quake], and some will be pulled farther away from failure,” Briggs said. “The trouble we have is the timing part. We don’t know where all these faults are in their kind of ‘clocks’ and how close they were to kind of going anyway.”

Complicating the guessing game is the lack of geological evidence. The type of quake that shook Nepal doesn’t necessarily leave a strong trace in the rock record, Briggs said. Imagine a hand pushing on a metal ruler until the instrument bows. When the ruler finally springs back against the pressure, as the Eurasian plate did against the pressure of the Indian plate, it changes shape. But the overarching pressure of the hand (or Indian plate, in this case) continues, deforming the ruler back into its bowed shape.

Grading map

Based on imagery from the WorldView-3 satellite acquired on April 28, this "grading map" shows topographic features and crisis information around Kathmandu, Nepal, after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck on April 25.

 Based on imagery from the WorldView-3 satellite acquired on April 28, this “grading map” shows topographic features and crisis information around Kathmandu, Nepal, after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck on April 25.

Mount Everest shrinking

“Kathmandu is going to go down, and it’s going to move back in the direction of Asia, and the Himalaya [region] is going to come back up,” Briggs said. The changes in the Earth are elastic, he said, and “they’re mostly canceled out in between the big earthquakes.”

The quake was also what is known as a “blind rupture,” meaning there was no visible fault line or cracking at the surface. That makes it harder to see how many times such a quake has happened before, and how likely it is to happen again.

Emitted light

Kathmandu Satellite Image - Emitted Light

This satellite image shows the city of Kathmandu and its surrounding areas after the April 25 earthquake. The Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership satellite, operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, detected a decrease in emitted light over Kathmandu, based on a comparison between images taken pre-earthquake, on April 22, 2015, and after the earthquake, on April 26, 2015.

The red and yellow colors indicate areas with the largest decrease in emitted light — possibly because of electrical outages and damage to key infrastructure, according to NASA. (Image Credit: Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) team/Marshall Space Flight Center)

Nepal districts affected

Satellite Photo of Nepal Districts After Earthquake

This satellite image shows 11 districts in Nepal that were affected by the earthquake. The Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership satellite was used to compare image of the region before and after the earthquake, and detected a decrease in emitted light over Kathmandu and its surrounding region. (Image Credit: Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) team/Marshall Space Flight Center)

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us@livescience,Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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