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Zeroing in on Seismic Activity in Central America

ICTP workshop focuses on scientific issues and capacity building

14/11/2011 - Trieste

As participants sat through a workshop in Costa Rica discussing earthquake sources in Central America, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the proceedings. The seriousness and urgency to bring together and train seismologists in the region could not have been better underlined.

The joint ICTP-TWAS workshop on "Seismic Sources in Central America. What is the largest earthquake each can produce?" held from 30 October to 5 November 2011, had two main aims: to address the scientific aspects of Central America's seismogenic potential and to build capacity in the region.

Central America is exposed to the impact of large subduction earthquakes as well as earthquakes within continental interiors" says Abdelkrim Aoudia, research scientist from ICTP's Earth System Physics section and director of the workshop.

Aoudia points out that the subduction earthquakes can be tsunamigenic and the continental interior is crossed by large earthquake faults as well as active volcanoes and in some cases close to big cities. With such an exposure to natural disasters, Central America counts in very few seismologists, far less than Africa. There is an urgent need to train seismologists and build a network of scientists in the region. As of now the region has not more than 10 seismologists and very few institutes that train them," he says.

The situation in Costa Rica, where a magnitude 7.5+ is expected, is relatively well monitored, says Aoudia, but neighbouring countries still have a long way to go in terms of training and preparedness. This is where ICTP steps in. "The newly created network of Central American scientists covering Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, including Venezuela and Colombia, will bring a balance of knowledge among the countries in the region and will allow an adequate and efficient use of the few monitoring resources available" he says. Through the workshop, we have been able to identify potential young applicants and students to ICTPs programs.

This workshop focussed on all the countries on the western and southern parts of what is known as the Caribbean plate. ICTP will be organizing another workshop, next year, in Cuba, and Aoudia hopes to focus on the countries in the eastern and northern parts of the Caribbean plate next time around.