A significant seismic event (magnitude 6.8) occurred in Morocco, impacting regions that encompassed the Atlas Mountains and the renowned city of Marrakech. Earthquakes are infrequent in North Africa, and this particular one was characterized as the most powerful ever documented in the mountainous area.
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Dimensions of the article:
- Location of Morocco
- Causes of the earthquake
- Impact of the earthquake
Location of Morocco:
Morocco is situated at the juncture of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, where these enormous plates come into contact, leading to the potential for seismic events.
Morocco, located in North Africa and sharing coastlines with both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, boasts a rich tapestry of cultural influences from Berber, Arabian, and European traditions. The earthquake’s epicenter was centered in the town of Ighil, approximately 70 kilometers southwest of Marrakech.
Causes of the earthquake:
- Earthquakes are relatively uncommon in North Africa, as the region experiences lower seismic activity along the northern edge of the African continent. The recent earthquake was unprecedented in the mountainous area, although it’s important to note that seismic events, while infrequent, are not unheard of.
- These earthquakes are a result of the northward movement of the African plate in relation to the Eurasian plate along a complex plate boundary. In the case of the recent earthquake, the USGS attributed it to oblique-reverse faulting occurring at shallow depths within the Moroccan High Atlas Mountain range.
- A fault is essentially a fracture or zone of fractures between two blocks of rock, allowing them to move relative to each other. Rapid movement along these faults can trigger earthquakes. During an earthquake, one side of the fault abruptly shifts concerning the other.
- Scientists classify faults based on factors like the angle of the fault with respect to the surface (known as the dip) and the direction of the slip along the fault. Dip-slip faults involve movement along the dip plane, while strike-slip faults involve horizontal movement. Oblique-slip faults exhibit characteristics of both dip-slip and strike-slip faults. This type of faulting is common in regions experiencing compression, such as when one tectonic plate converges with another.
Impact of the earthquake:
- The epicenter was located approximately 18.5 kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface. Hence, it was a relatively shallow earthquake.
- This shallow depth is significant because, unlike regions accustomed to frequent seismic activity, Morocco was not well-prepared for such a disaster. While a previous earthquake in 1960, which resulted in thousands of casualties, prompted changes in construction regulations, the majority of Moroccan buildings, especially in rural areas and older cities, were not constructed to withstand such intense tremors.
- In Marrakech, numerous buildings in the densely populated ancient city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had collapsed. Images of the medieval city wall revealed significant cracks and sections that had simply crumbled. Rescue teams are currently engaged in efforts to locate individuals trapped under the debris. Many residents are choosing to remain outdoors due to the apprehension of another earthquake.