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Report | Learning in the seismic real lab

Temporary seismic station in Afghanistan (photo: Norwegian Afghanistan Committee NAC).
Participants in the training course with the SeisComp3 screen showing the location of the 5.2 quake in the background. From left to right: Dr. Sofia-Katerina Kufner (GFZ), Jawad Mones (Balkh University), Najibullah Kakar (Norwegian Afghanistan Committee), Prof. Hamidullah Waizy (Kabul Politechnical University), Dr. Angelo Strollo (GFZ), Prof. Bahadorakbar Mir (Kabul University) [photo: F. Alberg, GFZ].
(photo: S.-K. Kufner, GFZ)

The populous northeastern provinces of Afghanistan are often affected by strong earthquakes. However, since there is no local seismic observation network, these earthquakes have not been continuously monitored nor comprehensively studied. The GFZ Section Lithosphere Dynamics has now set up a temporary 15-station seismic network through the project "Natural Central Asia Research Laboratory - Tracking the Tectonic Fingerprint of a Continental Collision" together with local and international partners in Northeast Afghanistan. The network promptly measured a magnitude 5.2 quake - while the GFZ is conducting a German-Afghan seismology training course on Telegrafenberg in Potsdam.

The new network is the first large digital seismic network in Northeast Afghanistan. It collects data digitally, permanently, and centrally so they can be collated with data from other seismic networks, such as GFZ's GEOFON program, for earthquake analysis.

In addition to the pure technical installation of the network, one aspect of the project is capacity building: The local project partner Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, Afghan Geological Survey, and Kabul University are trained to be able to evaluate the seismic data independently. With the support of the German Society for International Cooperation until 9 December the GFZ organizes a seismic training course at the GFZ for geoscience lecturers of three Afghan universities and the Afghan project head.

For them, the nature of Afghanistan offered a special training program: Last Tuesday, during the current course, the largest crustal earthquake in the region, with a magnitude of 5.2, occurred since the digital network was installed in autumn 2017. With the newly configured SeisComp3 systems - a GFZ-developed earthquake detection software - the participants were able to learn in real-time how to evaluate the location, strength, and rupture mechanism of a quake.

Sofia-Katerina Kufner, project leader and main supervisor of the course: "The event with its 'real-time learning effect' has impressively shown us just how important a local network is in this region. Another step should be to install the network permanently." Corresponding plans are currently being discussed.

In addition to monitoring current earthquakes, the network offers the opportunity to gain insight into the tectonics of this remote region from the data recorded by the seismic network. In contrast to the existing global seismic networks, the new local network now also allows to monitor and analyse weaker local earthquakes that are not detected by global networks. The fact that the quakes can be accurately located allows, for example, to gain an insight into the structure and activity of local tectonic fractures. Among other things, this can help to better localise regions endangered by quakes in the future. (ak)

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