Washington, Oct 27: Bhutan is definitely not a quiet place in the Himalayas and the small nation east of Nepal sandwiched between India and China is capable of producing a large earthquake -- just as it did three centuries ago, in 1714, warn researchers.
Until recently, the Bhutan region has been thought to be the only segment of the Himalayas not having experienced a major earthquake over the past half millennium.
Combining historical documents with new geological data, the researchers determined that the 1714 earthquake likely occurred in west central Bhutan, where most of the population lives, and had a magnitude of at least 7.5 to 8.5
"We are able for the first time to say, yes, Bhutan is really seismogenic, and not a quiet place in the Himalayas," said lead author of the study Gyorgy Hetenyi, a geophysicist at University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
The main fault at the foot of the Himalayan mountains can likely generate destructive, major earthquakes along its entire 2,400-kilometre length, the study said.
The Himalayas have produced some of the world's largest earthquakes, like the April 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal.
But scientists had not been able to prove whether every region along the 2,400-kilometre arc was seismogenic, or capable of producing quakes.
Bhutan was one of the last open gaps along the mountain chain -- the country had no records of recent major earthquakes and no major seismological work had been done there.
By filling this gap, the new study, accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, helps the millions of residents in the region understand its potential for natural hazards, according to Hetenyi.
The highest mountain range on Earth, the Himalayas are the product of the Indian tectonic plate subducting under the Eurasian Plate. The mountains span a northwest to southeast arc roughly 2,400 kilometres long.