Global Earthquake Fatalities Expected To Rise This Century, Says CU-Boulder Geologist

May 19, 2008

Earthquake expert and geological sciences Professor Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado at Boulder says unprecedented human fatalities from earthquakes will occur around the globe in the coming century unless significant earthquake-resistant building codes are implemented.

Bilham, who has worked extensively in the Himalaya, anticipates that the death toll from the May 12 magnitude 7.9 Sichuan Province earthquake in China may exceed 50,000 based on previous similar earthquakes in urban settings. According to May 16 reports by the Associated Press, the event damaged or destroyed 4 million apartments and homes and thousands of schools.

Bilham said there were 43 "supercities" on Earth with populations from 2 million to more than 15 million in 1950, but there are nearly 200 today. Roughly 8 million people have died globally as a result of building collapses during earthquakes in the past 1,000 years. A four-fold increase in the annual death toll from earthquakes between the 17th and 20th centuries is linked to increased urbanization, he said.

Half the world's supercities now are located near potential future magnitude 7.5 earthquakes, said Bilham, who is also a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. By the year 2025 more than 5.5 billion people will live in cities -- more than the entire 1990 combined rural and urban population. While large earthquakes over magnitude 7.5 have for the most part spared the world's major cities in the last century, this pattern will not persist indefinitely, he said.

"After the Earth Quakes," a 2006 book authored by the U.S. Geological Survey's Susan Hough and Bilham and published by Oxford University Press, looks at the collision between global urban construction and earthquake destruction.

Source: University of Colorado

Explore further: Radioisotope studies show the continental crust formed 3 billion years ago

Related Stories

Creating a stopwatch for volcanic eruptions

Jul 01, 2015

We've long known that beneath the scenic landscapes of Yellowstone National Park sleeps a supervolcano with a giant chamber of hot, partly molten rock below it.

Natural gas firm asked to show it's not causing Texas quakes

Jun 11, 2015

A natural gas extraction company controlled by energy giant Exxon Mobil sought to prove Wednesday that it is not to blame for a recent rash of small earthquakes in North Texas, telling a powerful state agency that it believes ...

NASA-led volunteers map landslides by Nepal quakes

Jun 03, 2015

As millions of people regroup from the impact of the earthquakes in Nepal, a team of international volunteers is combing through satellite imagery of the region to identify additional hazards—earthquake-induced ...

Recommended for you

ESA image: Northwest Sardinia

8 hours ago

This image over part of the Italian island of Sardinia comes from the very first acquisition by the Sentinel-2A satellite.

Experiments open window on landscape formation

Jul 02, 2015

University of Oregon geologists have seen ridges and valleys form in real time and—even though the work was a fast-forwarded operation done in a laboratory setting—they now have an idea of how climate ...

NASA image: Canadian wildfires continue

Jul 02, 2015

Canada is reeling from an early fire season this year as dozens of fires ravage at least three provinces of the country. All of the following reports are as of July 2, 2015.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.