Is Earth getting more restless: 2 strong earthquakes hit China in a month?

On Tuesday, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 hit the border area between Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, resulting in the destruction of several homes. This tragic event led to the death of at least three individuals and left five others injured, as reported by Chinese state media.
This seismic event occurred just a day after a devastating landslide in southwest China, which claimed the lives of at least eight people and trapped many others.
In December, the northwest region of the country experienced a significant earthquake that resulted in the loss of 148 lives and displaced numerous individuals in Gansu province. This incident marked the most severe earthquake in China since 2014, a year that witnessed over 600 fatalities in Yunnan province due to a similar disaster.
The recent quake in Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, which was felt in neighboring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, triggered about 40 aftershocks. This region is known for its seismic activity, but the strength of this particular earthquake was notably higher than usual. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) remarked that earthquakes of this magnitude are relatively rare.
So far, China has experienced two major earthquakes in about a month. Is the earth getting more restless or is there nothing unusual about these quakes?
According to a South China Morning Post report, recent data from the China Earthquake Networks Centre indicates a shift from moderate to significant seismic activity in 2023, marked by an increase in earthquakes exceeding a magnitude of 7. Despite this uptick, many experts maintain that the occurrence of strong earthquakes in close succession is not out of the ordinary and does not necessarily point to a long-term rise in seismic activity. They attribute the heightened recording of quakes to improved monitoring technologies and the rapid dissemination of news globally.
Yang Haibin, a geo-scientist at Zhejiang University, referenced USGS data from the past decade, noting that the frequency of magnitude 6-plus quakes, which range between 120 and 160 annually worldwide, has not shown a significant increase.
Within the broader Tianshan seismic zone, an earthquake of magnitude 7 or above typically occurs once every seven years, according to Han Yanyan, a senior engineer from the China Earthquake Networks Centre. The USGS and numerous scientists concur that fluctuations in seismic activity rates are a normal phenomenon, the SCMP report said.
However, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences suggests that western China might experience more frequent quakes in the future due to the movement of the Indian tectonic plate, which is converging with the Eurasian plate in the Tibetan plateau at a rate of 5cm (2 inches) per year. This movement is causing the Tibetan Plateau to rise, potentially increasing the likelihood of geological disasters in the region. The researcher emphasized the need for enhanced disaster preparedness and stricter building standards in western China, particularly in light of the high casualties in past earthquakes like the 2008 Sichuan quake.
The researcher also highlighted that global warming might exacerbate the risk, as increased rainfall on the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding areas promotes vegetation growth in geological fault zones. This vegetation allows water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide to penetrate these zones through plant roots, potentially leading to more geological activity.
While tectonic activity and climate change might increase the risk of geo-hazardous events, Yang from Zhejiang University clarified that human activities might trigger minor earthquakes but are unlikely to systematically alter the trend of strong earthquakes, which are predominantly governed by tectonic behaviors. The USGS also noted that the increase in recorded earthquakes is not indicative of heightened activity but rather the result of more seismic instruments capable of detecting more quakes.
(With inputs from agencies)

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