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Earth scientists from Israel, Jordan and Palestine have formed a research partnership to map seismic activity in the region.

The collaboration began last month (January), according to lead scientist Hillel Gilles Wust-Bloch from the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and the team are due to have a meeting next week (21 February).

The researchers, from Tel Aviv University, Al-Balqa Applied University in Jordan, and An-Najah National University in Palestine will work together to map a 100 square kilometre area around the ancient city of Jericho — one of the world's most vulnerable areas for earthquakes.

The four-year project will assess potential seismic hazards as well as monitoring seismic activity. This will be done at low thresholds using six seismic microscopes to detect tiny changes in the earth's crust that cannot be detected by conventional methods.

The team will discuss their findings several times a year. They hope that such earthquake mapping will help economic development in the region, as foreign investment for development projects is based on assessments of natural hazards.

Scientists in the Jordanian and Palestinian regions will also be trained in conducting earthquake research — with the intention of preventing brain drain and building research capacity — and the information may be used to teach the public about earthquake risk and safety.

"Local scientists can function as role models and 'cultural anchors', demonstrating that optimal solutions for stability and sustainable development in the region can only be found when Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians cooperate," says Wust-Bloch.

Farouk El-Baz, director of the US-based Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing, told SciDev.Net that the Middle East region is susceptible to crustal movements that cause earthquakes.

"Understanding the origin, depth and characteristics of quakes in the region requires a network of stations. It is also necessary to involve a network of specialists in monitoring movements and ascribing causes to each one. Thus, we all welcome this development," he says.