No, the Turkey Earthquake Didn't Shift the Entire Country 10 Feet

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 has caused immense devastation—thousands of buildings have collapsed and over 16,000 people have lost their lives—but some on social media are claiming that it has actually caused the entire country of Turkey to move by 10 feet.

"The earthquake in Turkey was so strong, that in relation to Syria, Ankara moved 10 feet," wrote one user on Twitter. "Heartbreaking footage of the Turkey earthquake devastation. It was such a severe subduction earthquake that it moved the entire country of Turkey 10 feet," wrote another.

It appears social media users were referencing headlines from various media outlets that were shared online. "How Turkey's deadly earthquake moved the country by 10 FEET," read one post by Mail Online. Another from Egypt Independent read "Earthquakes moved Turkey 3 meters toward west: geologist."

But how accurate are these claims? Did the whole country really move 10 feet?

Rescue operation after Turkey earthquake
Photo of local people and rescue volunteers working to retrieve people from the rubble after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and northern Syria on Monday. Mehmet Kacmaz/Getty

"Most of Turkey sits on a tectonic plate called the Anatolian Plate," William Barnhart, assistant coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Earthquake Hazards Program, told Newsweek. "That plate moves westward a bit less than one inch per year on average. But the plate is locked up at its boundaries where there are faults and doesn't generally move [from] there. The stress from the plate moving builds up at those faults until they slip, producing an earthquake."

Turkey sits at the intersection of three major tectonic plates: the Eurasian plate, the Arabian plate and the African plate. The Anatolian plate is much smaller and sits in between these larger masses. The recent earthquake occurred because of the northwards movement of the Arabian Plate.

"Eastern Turkey is being squeezed as the Arabian plate collides with the Eurasian plate," Lindsay Schoenbohm, a professor of Earth sciences and chair of chemical and physical sciences at the University of Toronto Mississauga, previously told Newsweek. "As a result, it is being forced to side to the west."

The earthquake occurred along the East Anatolian Fault Zone, a plate boundary that stretches over 300 miles between the Anatolian plate and the Arabian plate, i.e. from eastern to south-central Turkey. The slipping of this fault produced the momentous quake and caused the land around it to be displaced horizontally.

Map of Anatolian Plate
Map showing main tectonic structures around the Anatolian Plate on a base taken from a snapshot from Nasa's World Wind software. Arrows show displacement vectors of the Anatolian and Arabian Plates relative to the Eurasian Plate. Mikenorton

"During the earthquake, those faults slip violently several feet to catch up with the rest of the plate," Barnhart said. "That's where we see that 10 feet of motion in a few seconds."

A graph shared by MyRadar Weather, a weather forecast app, on Twitter illustrates this movement. "We're learning that, in some places along the East Anatolian Fault, the Anatolian Plate slid past Arabian plate with a slip of *up to* 3 meters—roughly 10 feet," the post read.

"These measurements were made with satellite imagery," Barnhart said. "That doesn't mean all of Turkey moved 10 feet, but it means the area immediately around the earthquake fault shifted about 10 feet in places."

The key point here is that the rest of Turkey more or less stayed in the same place. The post did, after all, say "up to" 10 feet. "Small steps in the whole-scale motion of the Turkey peninsula occur during earthquakes like these," Barnhart said. "[But] it takes approximately 140 to 150 years for the whole of Turkey to move 10 feet to the west."

In the Mail Online article cited above, the tectonic plate on which Turkey sits is also described as having slipped by "up to 10 feet." However, many on social media appear to have seen the headline in isolation and assumed that this figure applied to the entire country, rather than the specific region around the fault line.

It is not uncommon for earthquakes to cause ground displacement, although the extent of these shifts varies depending on the depth of the earthquake, its magnitude, and how the plates move relative to one another.

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Tohoku-Oki, Japan, in 2011—the strongest in the country's recorded history—caused the sea floor to move by more than 164 feet in some areas, while the main island of Honshu was shifted about 8 feet eastwards, according to the USGS.

Since Monday, Turkey has been hit by a series of over 100 aftershocks—smaller earthquakes that occur when minor readjustments are made in the portion of the fault that slipped during the main quake. The extent of the displacement continues to be monitored.

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