On September 24, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake shook the Asian country of Pakistan. The powerful quake destroyed many homes. More than 500 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. But hours after the shaking stopped, people were surprised to see a new island just 350 feet from the country’s coast, in the Arabian Sea.
The mysterious landform rose near the Pakistani city of Gwadar. Local authorities who measured the island say it is about 100 feet wide and ranges from about 20 to 70 feet above the water line.
The new island is made from mud, sand, and rock. Many scientists think that it may actually be a mud volcano—a landform that results from hot gas bubbling up from deep underground. Mud volcanoes are common in the Arabian Sea, where tectonic plates (gigantic, slow-moving rock slabs) beneath Asia are slowly pushing apart below the Earth’s surface.
Cracks called faults can be created in the Earth’s crust when tectonic plates move even slightly, causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Sometimes, hot gas can be released from these underground faults, pushing rocks and mud up to the surface. Geologists think this is how Pakistan’s new island was formed.
A QUAKE AT FAULT
Pakistan is located on top of three tectonic plates, on a large fault line called the Chaman Fault. So the area affected by last week’s earthquake is frequently hit by quakes, large and small. The new island is the third known “earthquake island” to have risen near Gwadar in the past 15 years.
But scientists know very little about the Chaman Fault and why so many mud volcanoes are created there. Politics and violence in the region near the fault have prevented researchers from studying the area.
Now, the National Academy of Sciences and the University of Chicago are working with local scientists to further research the Chaman Fault. They hope that examining the area will help them predict when major earthquakes will occur, thereby saving lives.
“This fault has had very little work,” says geoscientist Shubab Khan. “It is really important.”
Scientists think the island will last no longer than a year or so, as mud volcanoes over water usually fall back into the sea. But for now, geologists from the Pakistan Navy have collected rocks from the island to further study how it was formed.