What caused Morocco’s earthquake? A geologist studying the Atlas Mountains explains

What do your findings tell you about this earthquake?

The catastrophic earthquake took place to the north of the western Atlas mountains, south of Marrakesh. According to estimates by Morocco’s National Institute of Geophysics and the US Geological Survey, the depth is between 8km and 26km.

The earthquake resulted from a geological phenomenon called a “reverse fault.” This occurs when tectonic plates collide, causing the Earth’s crust to thicken. The stress along these fault lines can induce earthquakes as rocks abruptly shift to release accumulated stress, which is characteristic of a seismic fault.

The 6.8 magnitude implies that the fault responsible for this earthquake is probably around 30km long. This estimate takes into account the relationships between active fault length and earthquake magnitudes.

So, why don’t we see many earthquakes in this area, even though it’s a place where the tectonic blocks are moving and the mountains are rising? Earthquakes happen when there’s a sudden shift in rocks along a fault line, caused by the release of stored energy that’s been building up over time. In this region, there haven’t been any major recorded earthquakes before, which suggests that the stress from the plates pushing together has been building up deep underground for a long time. When the stress got too much for the fault to handle, it caused an earthquake.

In this mountain belt faults might not produce earthquakes very often. After the earthquake, the rocks in the area moved and adjusted, but other nearby faults might now be under extra stress, and they could produce smaller earthquakes known as aftershocks that might continue for months or even years.

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