Every year, millions of earthquakes strike Europe, although the majority of them are too small to be felt, and even fewer pose a danger to life or infrastructure. However, according to the European Facilities for Earthquake Hazard and Risk (EFEHR), the largest earthquakes to hit Europe in the 20th century alone caused more than 200,000 deaths and more than 250 billion euros ( £210 billion) in financial losses. Although it is currently impossible to accurately prevent or predict earthquakes, hazard and risk models can help develop mitigation measures to reduce their impact when they occur.
To that end, researchers from EFEHR today released new earthquake assessments for Europe, including both an updated earthquake hazard model and the first hazard model.
In this context, danger refers to the potential for earthquakes in the future and is calculated based on knowledge of past earthquakes and local geological conditions.
Risk, on the other hand, takes into account the estimated economic and humanitarian consequences of these potential earthquakes – and includes factors such as population density, local social conditions and the vulnerability of the built environment to seismic activity. .
In Europe, buildings in active seismic zones must be built or modernized to meet the so-called Eurocode 8 standard, which aims to protect human lives, limit damage and ensure the functioning of vital civil infrastructure.
EFEHR said: “The development of these models was a joint effort of seismologists, geologists and engineers from across Europe.
The main support, they explained, came from members of the Swiss Seismological Service and the Seismology and Geodynamics Group at ETH Zurich.
“All underlying datasets have been updated and harmonized – a complex undertaking given the large amount of data and the very diverse tectonic settings in Europe.”
Together, they added, the models “will significantly improve understanding of where strong shaking is most likely to occur and what effects future earthquakes in Europe will have.”
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Compared to the 2013 European seismic risk model, the advanced datasets used in the revised risk assessment led to lower estimates of potential seismic activity in “most parts of Europe”.
The exception, said the EFEHR, is “parts of western Turkey, Greece, Albania, Romania, southern Spain and southern Portugal, where higher earthquake patterns are observed.”
The updated model also confirmed that the European countries with the highest seismic risks are Turkey, Greece, Albania, Italy and Romania, followed by other Balkan countries.
But, experts warned, “even in regions with low to moderate ground shaking estimates, destructive earthquakes can occur at any time.”
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In terms of risk, the researchers reported that the drivers were, of course, areas of high seismic activity, but also the presence of older and more vulnerable buildings, and densely populated urban areas.
The researchers said: “While most European countries have recent design codes and standards that ensure adequate earthquake protection, many older un-reinforced or insufficiently-reinforced buildings still exist, presenting a high risk for their inhabitants.
“The highest seismic risk accumulates in urban areas, such as the cities of Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey, Catania and Naples in Italy, Bucharest in Romania and Athens in Greece, many of which have a history of earthquakes. of destructive earth.
“In fact, these four countries alone suffer almost 80% of the modeled average annual economic loss of €7 billion from earthquakes in Europe.”
However, noted the EFEHR, cities like Zagreb (Croatia), Tirana (Albania), Sofia (Bulgaria), Lisbon (Portugal), Brussels (Belgium) and Basel (Switzerland) have an above-average level of seismic risk. .
London was among the cities least exposed to seismic risk, along with Berlin and Paris.
The assessments were funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.