New geological evidence suggests a huge earthquake might be building underneath Bangladesh — one of the world's most densely populated nations.
Researchers have detected mounting strain on two huge tectonic plates in the area. It's creating a potentially dangerous subduction zone where one plate starts sliding under the other. When enough pressure builds up it can trigger an earthquake. In this case, the quake could reach a magnitude of nine.
The red line in the image below outlines about 24,000 square miles that could move during the earthquake, which would affect an estimated 140 million people or more, according to the research.
Normally subduction zones like this happen underneath the ocean. This is the first one scientists have discovered that's completely land-based, and it's in a less-than-ideal location.
"Bangladesh is overpopulated everywhere," co-author Syed Humayun Akhter said in the statement. "All the natural gas fields, heavy industries and electric power plants are located close to potential earthquakes, and they are likely to be destroyed. In Dhaka, the catastrophic picture will be beyond our imagination, and could even lead to abandonment of the city."
The good news is if the subduction zone is really there, we have time to prepare.
"We don't know how long it will take to build up steam, because we don't know how long it was since the last one," lead author Michael Steckler said in a statement. "We can't say it's imminent or another 500 years. But we can definitely see it building."
Scientists in Bangladesh and the surrounding area will continue to study the terrain and determine if there really is a dangerous subduction zone developing. There are plans to deploy 70 seismometers in the area next year.