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Research group studying massive earthquake in Turkey for similarities to California

California-based research team studying Turkey's massive earthquake
California-based research team studying Turkey's massive earthquake 03:35

As the death toll of the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey nearly two weeks ago continues to climb, now eclipsing 46,000, research groups around the world have begun to descend upon the region to study the massive seismological event. 

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, one of the largest in recent years, struck the southern and central turkey on Feb. 6, causing devastation across Turkey and Syria. 

In the days after the event, one California-based earthquake research group headed to the epicenter of the quake to gather data and compare the similarities between the region and the Golden State. 

The group, called "Learning from Earthquakes," is comprised of seismologists, geotechnical and structural engineers and scientists who work to "accelerate and increase learning from earthquake-induced disasters that affect the natural, built, social and political environments worldwide," according to their website

"Essentially, we're trying to design for a condition in California that we haven't seen," said Jonathan Stewart, a civil engineer and Professor at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. "So, the ability to go see what that looks like and learn from it is really once in a lifetime."

Stewart has been in regular contact with a team of four experts on the ground in Turkey, who rushed to witness the devastation and study the aftereffects due to the similarities the region's tectonic system shares with the West Coast of the United States.

"This particular earthquake in Turkey, obviously devastating, just a horrific event. But, we can learn from that and we can try to improve seismic safety for Turkey and for California and other places by collecting this data and learning from it in years to come," Stewart said. 

Recently, Dr. Lucy Jones, a renowned seismologist also known as the "Earthquake Lady," said that California could one day see a seismic event on par with what occurred in Turkey, as many buildings are not constructed to survive such devastation.

He says that they have to move quickly to examine the collapsed buildings, damaged pipelines and the ground, as their research relies on evidence that will be compromised by the massive search and rescue and cleanup efforts already underway. 

"One of the things that they have observed, which really hasn't come out in the press, at least not to my knowledge, is the really extraordinary amounts of liquefaction," Stewart said. 

Stewart describes liquefaction as "when soil, under certain conditions, loses strength and it turns into something like a liquid. When that happens foundations punch into the ground."

He says that the event is not far from common, having happened in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. 

"It will happen again," he said. "For example, along the L.A. River in the San Fernando Valley is an area that's liquefiable. Along Ballona Creek, certainly the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach are certainly very vulnerable."

While the group has made their way to witness the aftermath of several large earthquakes over recent years, this is far and away the most catastrophic event they've yet seen. 

"Nobody has ever seen the level of devastation that they've seen in this earthquake," Stewart said. "It's pretty emotionally taxing."

The Learning From Earthquakes team is also working with nearly 100 Turkish experts in research. 

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