Afghanistan is situated in a geologically active region of the world where there is an ever-present threat of strong earthquakes. Historical accounts dating back to the eighth century report destructive earthquakes in Afghanistan, and modern seismograph networks show that earthquake activity is widespread throughout much of the eastern part of the country.
In addition to the damage caused by strong shaking, earthquakes can trigger destructive landslides, especially in mountainous terrain, which is common in much of northeastern Afghanistan. Earthquakes also cause damage from liquefaction, where water-saturated soil becomes unstable and liquefies, and from ground subsidence, where shaking causes shifting and settlement of the ground surface.
As Afghanistan’s infrastructure is being rebuilt and modernized and as its natural resources are being developed, critical facilities and major construction projects need to be located and designed to take into account the potential adverse effects of natural hazards such as earthquakes.
Researchers in the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program compiled data on the location, size, and frequency of past earthquakes in Afghanistan, and examined satellite and aerial imagery to identify the locations of potentially active faults. This information was then used to create preliminary earthquake hazard maps that show the strength of probable ground motion caused by earthquake at specific localities and nationwide. The level of ground motion is expressed as a percent of the acceleration due to the force of gravity (% g), which is a parameter that engineers often use as a guide in designing structures such as hospitals, dams, pipelines, and power transmission lines. Proper design of such facilities and structures will help ensure that Afghanistan’s new and reconstructed infrastructure is durable enough to survive the impact of major earthquakes, which will inevitably occur.
For a list of all USGS Earthquake Hazards Project publications, go here.