Rising mine water: quake danger growing

2010-09-03 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — Residents of the Witwatersrand may experience more and bigger earthquakes due to water rising underground in mined-out basins.

It is unclear what will happen, but it is possible that earthquakes will occur more regularly in Johannesburg and that some of them could register up to five on the Richter scale, said Olaf Goldbach, a geophysicist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

He was speaking at the CSIR’s bi-annual summit about the relevance of science and the application of research.

Goldbach said it is crucial that research is carried out soon about the link between the rising water levels and the increase in seismic activity, as it has far-reaching consequences for people and infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“This again will have financial implications for insurers when buildings suddenly collapse.”

He referred to the earthquake last Thursday evening, which shook parts of the Witwatersrand, saying he believed it was linked to the rising water levels.

The earthquake registered 2.8 on the Richer scale and dislodged roof tiles.

Goldbach said mine-related earthquakes are common in South Africa and yet residents don’t know what to expect. He called on the government to urgently look into seismic activity, along with the devastating effects that acidic mine water is having on the environment.

Latest research points to mine water at some places being between 400 and 500 metres from the surface and rising by up to almost a metre per day.

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