Pakistan’s “Earthquake Island” Seen From Space

Mud island off the coast of Gwadar imaged by NASA's EO-1 satellite on Sept. 26, 2013

On the afternoon of Tuesday September 24, 2013, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck Balochistan province in southern Pakistan, causing widespread destruction across several districts during more than 2 minutes of powerful tremors and shaking. Sadly at least 400 people were killed (some reports say 600) and over 100,000 have been left homeless. But a weirder — if much less tragic — effect of the quake that was soon reported worldwide was the sudden appearance of a new island off the coast, a mound of mud and bubbling methane seeps rising nearly 20 meters (70 feet) from the ocean surface.

The image above, taken by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite, shows the newly-formed mud island a kilometer (0.6 miles) off the Gwadar coast.

According to an article by the Pakistani news site, the 250-by-100-foot-long pile of mud and rocks is leaking flammable gases.

“Our team found bubbles rising from the surface of the island which caught fire when a match was lit and we forbade our team to start any flame,” said Mohammad Danish, a marine biologist from Pakistan’s National Institute of Oceanography. “It is methane gas.”

Aerial photo of the Gwadar mud volcano (National Institute of Oceanography, Pakistan)
Aerial photo of the Gwadar mud volcano (National Institute of Oceanography, Pakistan)

Pakistan’s many earthquakes are the result of collisions between the Indian, Arabian, and Eurasian tectonic plates. These sorts of mud volcanoes are not particularly unusual after large quakes there… it just so happened that this one occurred near a populated coast and in relatively shallow water. (Source)

(In fact two days later another mud island was spotted off the coast of the nearby coastal town of Ormara.)

The mud volcano, which is being called “Zalzala Jazeera” (earthquake island) is not expected to last long. Wave action will eventually sweep the sediment away over the course of several months. (

Unfortunately earthquake relief efforts in the remote Taliban-dominated region are being hampered by militant activity.

Image source: NASA Earth Observatory