Huge ground fissures appeared in the “Al-Sbeea” area of Libya according to a few news sources I can find in English. It appears videos (not in English) are circulating on social media. One of the sources, which is incomplete and dubious, but syndicated on MSN (which means people see it), has a highly misleading headline suggesting the cracks are related to earthquakes.

This is not anything related to an earthquake. Ground cracks are not precursors to earthquakes. Basic geology. But I think we see this misinformation for a few reasons — people are remembering the terrible earthquake in Morocco in September 2023 and worried the same catastrophe might happen to them, there are no qualified experts quoted in the news reports, and there is a translation gap.

A more reasonable article appears on the Watan web site. It does not mention earthquakes at all but focuses on the obvious concerns from the residents and farmers whose land is affected. Apparently this kind of ground fissuring has not been seen here. The significant fissures are from 15 to 200 meters in length and 4 meters in width. They have appeared on farms in this region south of Tripoli.

Government officials are investigating. But this is not much of a mystery…

Ground fissures like this occur in arid areas due to instability and subsidence, often related to groundwater withdrawals. See my previous post on ground fissures. This phenomenon is not (that) new. It’s documented in places like Arizona, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia where farmers, in particular, have overdrawn the groundwater for irrigation or have suffered from drought. The now unsaturated land compresses and subsides, creating cracking on the surface.

From the map above, you can see that this is an arid land with irrigated green patches. The Watan article conspicuously noted a crack was close to an agricultural well. Hmm.

Libya experienced catastrophic rain in September of last year. It’s not unreasonable to think that hydrogeologic instability is occurring as an abnormally high water table has lowered over the past few months.

Even though people associate fissures with earthquakes, that’s not what’s going on here. Don’t believe the awful feeds on MSN. In fact, it’s my advice to not read MSN. The syndication of so many unvetted, terrible news sources has rendered worse than worthless – it’s misinformation.

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