Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences say their research suggests the region may be ripe for a quake of a magnitude similar to the 1859 quake that damaged the former capital, Shamakha, so severely the government was relocated to Baku on the coast of the Caspian Sea.
Ten years' worth of Global Positioning System data from Baku and surrounding regions show a large buildup of tension in the area, an MIT release reported Thursday.
An earthquake could threaten Baku's population, petroleum reserves and the health of the Caspian Sea, researchers said.
"It doesn't take a gigantic earthquake," said Robert Reilinger of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. "It just takes bad luck.
"And this is an area where they can't afford it. It's an extremely vulnerable area in terms of the density of the people, the density of oil infrastructure, and the potential environmental impact regionally, not just in Azerbaijan."
Azerbaijan has an active geologic history, as a result of the Caucasus Mountains rising up from the collision of two tectonic plates -- the southern Arabian plate and the northern Eurasian plate.
As the plates push against the other tension builds, researchers said, occasionally releasing in the form of earthquakes along the boundary of the plates.
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