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The potential for giant tsunamigenic earthquakes in the northern Bay of Bengal


The great Sumatra–Andaman earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 came as a surprise to most of the earth science community. Although it is now widely recognized that the risk of another giant earthquake is high off central Sumatra1, just east of the 2004 earthquake, there seems to be relatively little concern about the subduction zone to the north, in the northern Bay of Bengal along the coast of Myanmar. Here I show that similar indicators suggest a high potential for giant earthquakes along the coast of Myanmar. These indicators include the tectonic environment, which is similar to other subduction zones that experience giant megathrust earthquakes, stress and crustal strain observations, which indicate that the seismogenic zone is locked, and historical earthquake activity, which indicates that giant tsunamigenic earthquakes have occurred there in the past. These are all consistent with active subduction in the Myanmar subduction zone and I suggest that the seismogenic zone extends beneath the Bengal Fan. I conclude therefore that giant earthquakes probably occur off the coast of Myanmar, and that a large and vulnerable population is thereby exposed to a significant earthquake and tsunami hazard.

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Figure 1: Tectonic setting of the Bay of Bengal.
Figure 2: Models for the 1762 Arakan earthquake and tsunami.


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Among the many colleagues at Geoscience Australia who offered support and advice, I especially thank C. Collins for discussions about the 1762 Arakan earthquake and Bengal during the colonial era, and M. Hollow for help locating many of the historical references. I am also grateful to K. Sieh and C. Vigny for their thorough and constructive reviews.

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Correspondence to Phil R. Cummins.

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Cummins, P. The potential for giant tsunamigenic earthquakes in the northern Bay of Bengal. Nature 449, 75–78 (2007).

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