AGU Fall Meeting: Syrian refugees face new obstacle: Turkish earthquakes

December 13, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- Syrian refugees seeking reprieve from civil war may have traded a violent home for a different danger: deadly earthquakes, according to new research presented here today.

More than 2.5 million Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey in the past five years now live in seismically active regions, many with histories of powerful tremors. Yet their presence is not reflected in the data traditionally used to produce risk assessments, which scientists and agencies use to mitigate and respond to natural hazards, according to Bradley Wilson, a geoscientist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Including Syrian refugees in Turkey's earthquake risk assessments could boost the death toll from a major earthquake in the country's most populated districts along the Syria-Turkey border by up to 20 percent, potentially causing hundreds or thousands more casualties than currently projected, according to Wilson's new research.

The research highlights the importance of including physical, political, cultural and socio-economic factors in natural hazard risk assessments, Wilson said.

"It is vital to remember that Syrian refugees migrating northwest into Turkey are migrating to areas constructed on the ruins of cities that have been repeatedly destroyed in large earthquakes," said Wilson, who will present the results of his research today at the 2016 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Turkey lies atop several active fault zones, which have produced some of the world's deadliest earthquakes. The 7.8-magnitude Erzincan earthquake struck northeastern Turkey in 1939, claiming nearly 33,000 lives and demolishing the city of Erzincan. More than 600 years earlier, an earthquake estimated to be of magnitude 7.0 struck the area known today as the Adana province, killing roughly 60,000.

Wilson's study area spanned regions surrounding the Turkey-Syria border, where both seismic activity and refugee numbers are high. Using a combination of population and refugee data, Wilson compared the regions' populations before and after the Arab Spring in 2011 to depict how refugee migration affected the country's earthquake-prone districts. Using Turkey's seismic records, he then simulated multiple earthquake scenarios and forecasted casualty tolls under magnitude 5.8, 6.4 and 7.0 earthquakes.

Incorporating refugees into Turkey's earthquake risk assessments significantly shifted the study area's high-risk zones. Before refugee migration, most at-risk areas were near the country's center. While those areas remain high-risk, including refugees shifts the most at-risk regions to the south, where most refugees now live.

Under worst case scenarios, where a magnitude 7.0 earthquake strikes Turkey's most populated districts, the study suggests the death toll could rise by 20 percent over current estimates. Deaths could rise by at least 3 percent if a magnitude 5.8 earthquake were to strike in a less populated district, according to the new research.

"If ignored, these discrepancies ultimately complicate the work of the scientists and agencies who work to mitigate and respond to earthquake disasters," Wilson said.
Media Q&A and presentation information

The researcher, Bradley Wilson, will be available to answer questions from members of the news media during a media Q&A from 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. PT today in the Press Conference Room, Moscone West, Room 3000. The media availability will also be streamed live over the web. Information about how to stream press conferences can be found here.

The researchers will present a poster about their work on Tuesday, 13 December 2016 at the AGU Fall Meeting.

Poster Title: Fleeing to Fault Zones: Incorporating Syrian Refugees into Earthquake Risk Analysis along the East Anatolian and Dead Sea Rift Fault Zones

Session: NH23A: Model, Tools, Techniques, and New Data Streams for Natural Hazards and Emergencies II Posters

Date: Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Time: 1:40 - 6:00 p.m.
Abstract number: NH23A-1851
Location: Moscone South, Poster Hall

Contact information for the researcher: Bradley Wilson:, +1 (708) 519-0442

2. Today's press events

8:30 a.m. - New obstacles for Syrian refugees (Media Q&A)
9:00 a.m. - First results from the Norwegian Young Sea ICE Expedition
10:30 a.m. - Arctic Report Card 2016
11:30 a.m. - News from Gale Crater: Recent findings from NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover
1:30 p.m. - Tracking the reorientation of the terrestrial planets
2:30 p.m. - Direct from New Zealand: The Kaikoura earthquake
4:00 p.m. - The path forward from Paris, one year later (Media Availability)
5:00 p.m. - Integrating scientific research into local decision making

All Fall Meeting press events will be streamed live on the AGU press events webpage and archived on AGU's YouTube channel.

3. Noteworthy sessions happening today Registered journalists who are interested in attending these events should meet an AGU staff member at the entrance to the lecture hall 30 minutes prior to the start of the talk.

4. Press networking events happening today

Members of the media will be able to meet and mingle with colleagues at several events throughout the week. Here is what's happening today:


[The following is provided on behalf of the Northern California Science Writers Association.]

AGU press are encouraged to join their colleagues in the Northern California Science Writers Association for NCSWA's annual holiday dinner on Tuesday, December 13. This year's speaker is noted UC Berkeley ecologist Todd Dawson, one of the world's leading authorities on redwood trees. Dawson will discuss the impacts of climate change on California's redwoods and his high-altitude forest research, featured prominently in National Geographic and other outlets.

Details: Tuesday, December 13, 6:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
L'Olivier, 465 Davis Ct. (within walking distance of Moscone Center)
Cost for non-NCSWA members: $45
NCSWA encourages AGU press to register online in advance as the event may sell out.

5. Potentially newsworthy presentations happening today 6. Online media resources

For journalists: During the Fall Meeting, journalists can find many resources online in the Virtual Press Room in the Media Center on the Fall Meeting website. These resources include press releases, press conference materials and other information. Videos of press conferences will be added to the Virtual Press Room during the meeting for easy online access.

For public information officers: PIOs are now able to share press releases and other materials in the Virtual Press Room by directly uploading them via the Press Item Uploader. PIOs can upload press releases, tip sheets and press conference materials to the Virtual Press Room at any time before or during the meeting, including uploading items in advance and scheduling them to post during the meeting.

The AGU press office is offering two new online tools to connect reporters with scientific experts at the 2016 Fall Meeting. The Find an Expert tool allows public information officers to list scientific experts who are available to be interviewed by reporters at the meeting. The Request an Expert tool allows reporters to send requests for experts directly to PIOs.

More information about these tools can be found in the Fall Meeting Media Center.

The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.

American Geophysical Union

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