David Bowman, C-STEM Dean and Earthquake Expert, Explains the Science Behind the Disaster in Turkey and Syria

February 8, 2023

An impromptu lecture in the ISC provided the Eastern community with the opportunity to learn more about the geology behind the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that caused widespread devastation in southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria.

C-STEM Dean David Bowman, a professor of geology and expert in the science of earthquakes, walked the audience through the contributing causes for the quake and the mammoth 7.5 magnitude aftershock during, during the Feb. 6 presentation.

The catastrophic event sent waves reverberating throughout the planet, Bowman explained, waves that were even recorded right here in Cheney by EWU’s own seismometer.

“This was a big earthquake by anyone’s standards,” said Bowman, who has researched the Anatolian faults involved in the quake extensively. In addition, he has researched similar strike-slip faults in California and Washington that have triggered – and can potentially trigger – earthquakes.

Over the years, seismologists have performed ongoing research to investigate the geological causes of earthquakes and their impact on the landscape above. Their research has ultimately helped to identify regions most at risk of catastrophic events and develop notification processes and safety guidelines – with an overarching goal of saving lives.

While Bowman served on the faculty at Cal State Fullerton, teaching students about the geological forces behind earthquakes, he also traveled to California’s high-risk coastal communities as part of a Red Cross effort to provide training on disaster preparedness.

Even amid a growing body of research, it remains near impossible to predict the date, time and exact location of these catastrophic events.

For instance, in the earthquake-prone hotspot of the Middle East, many experts believed the North Anatolian fault posed the most immediate earthquake risk. Instead, it was the less active East Anatolian Fault that woke up and started shifting.

“Any time that you think you know what’s going to happen, mother nature will prove you wrong,” Bowman said.

Over the years, research into the impact of the constantly shifting tectonic plates, and the havoc the energy from the tension can create for the ground above, has resulted in engineering advancements that protect human life.

Bowman’s department trains the geologists who study earthquakes as well as the engineers who design buildings to withstand them. He says constructing earthquake-resilient structures is costly. In economically depressed regions, even when higher-level building codes are mandated they aren’t always enforced. Older buildings, which in the Middle East range from ancient family dwellings to castles, are often reduced to rubble.

“Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do,” Bowman said.


Added Note: Stop by the ISC to check out a display of EWU’s seismometer and the recorded seismic activity in Cheney that following the major quake in Turkey. The display also includes a real-time monitor with a USGS feed of “Iris” a seismic monitor world map that reflects recent earthquake activity throughout the world.