Predicting the exact time and strength of an earthquake is impossible, but one study says Istanbul is at risk for a major earthquake.

Researchers from MIT and Turkey have been studying the North Anatolian Fault, one of the more “energetic earthquake zones in the world.” The fault spans more than 700 miles across northern portions of Turkey and the Aegean Sea.

Specifically, researchers are looking at a portion of the fault that has gone quiet. According to a MIT press release, that could mean two things. This “seismic gap” could be inactive, or the portion could be slowly building tension before it eventually releases in the form of an earthquake.

MIT researchers along with Turkish counterparts believe both are occurring. They studied 20 years worth of GPS data along the North Anatolian Fault and here’s what they found.

The next large earthquake in this region is likely to impact a seismic gap beneath the Sea of Marmara, which lies just five miles west of Istanbul. The seismic gap in the western segment of the fault line continues to move without producing large earthquakes.

This would be a worst case scenario for Turkey’s largest city. Michael Floyd, a research scientist with MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, explains why.

“Istanbul is a large city, and many of the buildings are very old and not built to the highest modern standards compared to, say, southern California,” Floyd said in a press release.

“From an earthquake scientist’s perspective, this is a hotspot for potential seismic hazards.”

Floyd also touched on the unpredictability of earthquakes.

“When people talk about when the next quake will be, what they’re really asking is, ‘When will it be, to within a few hours, so that I can evacuate?’ But earthquakes can’t be predicted that way.”

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Floyd adds, “Ultimately, for people’s safety, we encourage them to be prepared. To be prepared, they need to know what to prepare for – that’s where our work can contribute.”

Basically, have an emergency plan. Make sure your loved ones know what to do in the event of an earthquake.

History also plays a role in where scientists think the next big quake will hit. Over the past few decades, major earthquakes have impacted the North Anatolian Fault like dominos, with earthquakes occurring east to west along the fault line. The last major earthquake hit Izmit, east of Istanbul, in 1999. That quake killed thousands with the initial shock lasting less than a minute.

If this domino effect continues, Istanbul could see a major earthquake sometime in the future.

“It only takes one to affect many lives. In a location like Istanbul that is known to subject to large earthquakes, it come back to the message: Always be prepared.” has a solid earthquake preparation plan for you and your family.

Image credit: NASA, Christine Daniloff and Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

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