Israel unveiled an early warning system last year

No sign of impending major earthquake in Israel, but issue hard to predict — experts

No abnormal seismic activity in Israel amid Turkey, Syria quakes but Geological Survey head can’t be definitive: ‘All the tectonic plates touch one another, but systems so complex’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A map of earthquake detection seismometers on a screen in the earthquake situation room of the Israel Geological Survey in Jerusalem, February 6, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
A map of earthquake detection seismometers on a screen in the earthquake situation room of the Israel Geological Survey in Jerusalem, February 6, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

There have been no recent signs of an impending powerful earthquake in Israel that could be triggered by the powerful temblors that rocked Turkey and Syria, although the issue is hard to predict with currently available technology, earthquake experts said Monday.

Historically, Israel has experienced severe earthquakes once a century, on average. The last one occurred in 1927. Israel lies along the Great Rift Valley, also known as the Syrian-African Rift or the Dead Sea Transform, which is vulnerable to earthquakes.

“It’s very hard to point to a direct link and say how an earthquake in Turkey might affect earthquakes in Israel,” Prof. Zohar Gvirtzman, director of Israel’s Geological Survey, told The Times of Israel.

“It’s correct that all the tectonic plates touch one another, but the systems are so complex that it’s difficult to give a prediction.”

Asked about recent seismic activity in Israel, he said his agency had found nothing out of the ordinary.

“We monitor earthquakes all the time and there has been nothing unusual,” he said.

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Ron Avni, an earthquake studies lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, said that since the East Anatolian Fault, along which Monday’s two massive quakes took place, is connected to the Syrian African Rift, any big tremor in the former could — but also could not — trigger a major one in the latter, which would affect Israel.

The connection between the East Anatolian Plate and the Syrian African Rift, here referred to as the Dead Sea Transform. (Mikenorton, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia commons)

Avni said: “The mechanisms aren’t understood well enough. Our knowledge is empirical — it’s based on what we know about previous earthquakes.”

Dr. Ron Avni. (Dani Machlis/BGU)

“We know about plate tectonics. But it is impossible to predict exactly when the big one will occur in Israel.”

In February last year, the Geological Survey of Israel unveiled cutting-edge technology capable of sensing the first sign of an earthquake and having the Home Front Command send out an alert within ten seconds.

A press briefing to announce the new system was brought forward in February 2022 after a 3.7-magnitude quake centered in the Jordan Valley shook Israel the month before.

Called TRUAA and based on a system developed at Berkley University in California that went live in 2019, the NIS 45 million ($14 million) early warning system had put Israel on a par with a small number of other nations such as the US, Taiwan and Japan.

Gvirtzman told the briefing at the launch of TRUAA that current technology could not yet predict the location, timing or strength of an earthquake.

But, by picking up the initial, weaker tremor that precedes a stronger one, it could get the information out quickly in the hope that as many Israelis as possible within range would have time to seek protection, he said.

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