Causes and implications of Nepal earthquake discussed

By Hannah Kinzer

Lawrence University students organized a talk on Wednesday, May 13, to raise awareness and educate people about the recent earthquake in Nepal. The event was held in the Warch Campus Center cinema and featured Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Geology Marcia Bjornerud. It was open to all members of the public.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that occurred on April 25 resulted in over 8,000 casualties and nearly 18,000 injuries, according to CNN. The region around the capital Kathmandu was hit the hardest. Additionally, the country has continued to experience aftershocks, including a magnitude 7.3 quake on May 12.

Students, in conjunction with Rotaract Club, planned the talk to educate people about the recent disaster.

Rotaract member and student presenter freshman Nijesh Upreti, who helped to organize the event, explained that they hoped having a faculty presenter would help to raise interest in the Lawrence community.

There were two parts to the event. The first was a presentation by Bjornerud, a structural geologist. The second was reflections of Nepali students at Lawrence.

In her presentation, Bjornerud discussed geological forces interacting during earthquakes and the specific forces that caused the Nepal earthquake. She explained that when two tectonic plates are colliding at a fault, “a lot of strain energy builds up, and then finally, that energy exceeds the frictional resistance of the fault and snaps.” She also talked about how aftershocks of earthquakes are related to what areas of stress the initial earthquake does or does not relieve. She noted that landslides were also a result of the earthquake.

Bjornerud also discussed the predictions scientists can make about earthquakes. She explained that scientists used to focus on finding a way to predict earthquakes in real time to evacuate cities, but little came from the research. She said that, instead, the focus is now on designing buildings that are safer and more stable during earthquakes.

When addressing the importance of the event, Bjornerud stated, “I hope it wakes people up to the challenges of living on this planet [and] being smarter about understanding how the earth works.” The second presentation was by two Nepali Lawrence students, Upreti and sophomore Bimalsen Rajbhandari. They reflected on their reactions to the event as well as the reactions of relatives and others living in Nepal. Both stressed mental strain resulting from the disaster and the importance of communication with those in the affected area. They also noted the damage to historical sites within the city. Both students stressed the need for long-term aid for Nepal.

Both presentations recognized aspects that were positive about the situation. Bjornerud noted that scientists know earthquake prone regions where focus on better building designs may help during earthquakes. Upreti and Rajbhandari noted that the earthquake occurred during the day and that the international airport in Kathmandu is still operational.

Many members of the Appleton and Lawrence communities attended the talk. Sophomore Tae Hamm said, “I think the fact that these Nepali students are organizing … long-term events might make … local domestic students interested in what happened in Nepal, so I think it’s going to help with diversity in Lawrence.”