A Massive Earthquake in Pakistan Just Forced an Island to Climb Out of the Sea

In the wake of a massive earthquake in Pakistan this morning, a new island has emerged from the Arabian Sea

A map showing the sea floor off the coast of Pakistan*
A map showing the sea floor off the coast of Pakistan* Liu, K.-K., Dittert, N. (2010) Web-based electronic supplements, Appendix C

Earlier this morning a massive magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit Pakistan, a shallow earthquake that tore down nearby towns killing at least 30 people and trapping many more in the rubble. But while the earthquake was a force of destruction, taking lives, homes, and communities, it also gave something back. The earthquake, says Reuters, birthed an island.

Television channels showed images of a stretch of rocky terrain rising above the sea level, with a crowd of bewildered people gathering on the shore to witness the rare phenomenon.

The BBC:

Local police official Moazzam Jah told Geo TV the island – which reportedly has an altitude of 20 to 40 feet and width around 100 feet – emerged about half a mile away from the edge of the coastline.

It’s not entirely clear what caused the new island to jut out of the sea. Earthquakes are definitely capable of causing dramatic shifts in the terrain: in 2010 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake caused parts of Chile to move “at least 10 feet to the west.” On the other hand, geoscientists on Twitter have raised the possibility that the new island may have been produced by what’s known as a “mud volcano.” Back in 2010, says NASA, a mud volcano caused a different island to temporarily rise from the Arabian Sea. If that’s the case, Pakistan’s new island may not be around for long:

ud volcanoes have risen off the coast of Pakistan in the past and disappeared again within a few months, washed away by the waves and currents in the Arabian Sea. It is quite likely that this new volcano will meet the same fate.

The earthquake was centered at a strange triple junction in the Earth’s surface, says the USGS. In Pakistan, near the site of today’s earthquake, the Arabian tectonic plate is pushing its way beneath the Eurasian plate while the Indian plate rams into both of them from the south:

The tectonic plates near Pakistan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

The USGS says that the last time a deadly earthquake hit near the epicenter of today’s quake was in July, 1990, a disaster that killed 6 people.

*This story was updated to clarify that the cause of the new island is still up in the air.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Hurricanes May Cause Earthquakes
What Caused the Deadly Iranian Earthquakes?
Chilean Earthquake Moved City Ten Feet

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