• Data from the Dead Sea bed showed a 6.5-magnitude earthquake might hit Israel in the coming years
  • Scientists looked at past quake records to find a recurrence pattern
  • They found that major earthquakes may happen more frequently in the region than previously thought

Can scientists predict when a massive earthquake may happen next? A new study shows that a 6.5-magnitude earthquake could happen in Israel in the coming years.

There is still no mechanism to forecast earthquakes, but scientists can look at the records of past quakes to find a recurrence pattern. This is what the researchers of a new study did. They used the "longest record of its kind in the world" for the purpose.

The study was conducted under the bed of the Dead Sea. Researchers analyzed the region's geological data of the last 220,000 years. According to a news release from the Tel-Aviv University, the different sediment layers provide information on the different events that happened in the region. For instance, darker layers may represent flash floods while the layers where the sediments appear to swirl together mark the earthquakes.

The team found that major earthquakes in the region might have been happening more frequently than previously thought.

"Our analysis shows that the recurrence time of large earthquakes follows a power-law distribution, with a mean of 1400 ± 160 years," the researchers wrote. "This mean recurrence is notable shorter than the previous estimate of 11,000 years for the past 40,000 years."

They found that earthquakes of magnitude 7.5 or even higher occurred in a 1,300-1,400-year cycle on average. Since the last earthquake of this size was in 1033, it may happen in the coming centuries, the news release said.

The researchers also found that the region experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake every 130-150 years. However, the frequency of such earthquakes also varied – some happened within hundreds of years while others in just decades.

The last 6.5-magnitude earthquake in the Dead Sea valley happened in 1927, which was 94 years ago.

"I don't want to cause alarm but we are living in a tectonically active period. The geological record does not lie and a major earthquake in Israel will come," the study co-author, Professor Shmuel Marco of Tel-Aviv University, said in the news release. "Of course, we have no way of predicting exactly when the earth will shake under our feet — this is a statistical projection — but unfortunately, I can say that an earthquake that will cause hundreds of casualties will hit in the coming years. It could be in ten years or several decades, but it could also be next week, and we need to constantly be prepared for that."

According to Michigan Technological University (MTU), magnitude 6.1 to 6.9 earthquakes can cause "a lot of damage in very populated areas."

Despite several advances in science, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) notes that its scientists can only determine the probability that a major earthquake "may happen in a specific area within a certain number of years."

Still, this kind of long-term data can help inform people and communities to be better prepared for such events, whether it's by staying informed on what to do when an earthquake hits, or by improving the safety of buildings.

Two recent earthquakes have exaceberated fears that neglected buildings could collapse
Two recent earthquakes have exaceberated fears that neglected buildings could collapse AFP / Amir MAKAR