The big question is how much damage a quake of that size could do to Bangladesh, which sits atop a layer of sediment about 12 miles thick. Sediment can liquefy during significant seismic events, and few buildings in the crowded country meet even minimal safety codes.
Researchers are preparing to gather more information about what’s going on deep below the sediment, where the subduction is occurring. Meanwhile, Steckler, based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, recommends that the region prepare for the Big One with safer construction and updated disaster planning.
“More effort needs to be put into an unblinking assessment of the possibilities,” Steckler says. “We should be trying to get people in between being so panicked they don’t do anything and being so complacent they don’t do anything.”