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: The Greenland Ice Sheet: Now in HD

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cheaper, more powerful VR system for engineers

Dec 17, 2014

It's like a scene from a gamer's wildest dreams: 12 high-definition, 55-inch 3D televisions all connected to a computer capable of supporting high-end, graphics-intensive gaming.

California gets funds for quake warning system

Dec 15, 2014

California has received a spurt of federal funding to expand an earthquake warning system intended to provide enough time for trains to brake, utilities and factories to shut off gas lines, and people to dive under a table ...

UW team explores large, restless volcanic field in Chile

Dec 01, 2014

If Brad Singer knew for sure what was happening three miles under an odd-shaped lake in the Andes, he might be less eager to spend a good part of his career investigating a volcanic field that has erupted ...

Recommended for you

Improving forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

18 hours ago

Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach riverbanks, wash out roads and flood buildings.

The Greenland Ice Sheet: Now in HD

19 hours ago

The Greenland Ice Sheet is ready for its close-up. The highest-resolution satellite images ever taken of that region are making their debut. And while each individual pixel represents only one moment in time, ...

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.