Is the Turkey earthquake related to the one in Buffalo and Ontario? 'The timing isn't right,' seismologist says

'We do see earthquakes caused by that large main shock, but they tend to be within the length of the rupture zone,' expert says

The powerful and devastating earthquake that has killed thousands in Turkey and Syria is unrelated to the 4.2-magnitude earthquake that shook Buffalo and parts of southern Ontario Monday morning.

John Cassidy, an earthquake seismologist with Natural Resources Canada, says both instances are relatively rare events. The 7.8 shallow quake in Turkey is one of the largest experienced in the region in 100 years, and ruptured a fault hundreds of kilometers long.

The earthquake felt in Buffalo and Ontario, however, is most likely unrelated.

“There are a lot of aftershocks and we do see earthquakes caused by that large main shock, but they tend to be within the length of the rupture zone” he tells Yahoo News Canada. “In this case, within 500 kilometers is where you’d see potential for other earthquakes to be triggered.”

There have been studies that look at earthquakes triggered at great distances, but they’re related to the seismic waves of a large earthquake as they roll through a region, triggering tiny earthquakes, Cassidy explains. That’s generally observed in volcanic regions.

“That’s not the case in New York (and Ontario),” he says. “The timing isn’t right either.”

That’s not to say large earthquakes aren’t to be expected in different parts of Canada. While it’s not unheard of for parts of Ontario to be shaken by earthquakes, they’re rather rare. But the Ottawa Valley region is a seismic zone, which continues up to Temiscaming, the St. Lawrence Valley and the Lower St. Lawrence. The Charlevoix Region of Quebec has had many large earthquakes, including ones up to magnitude 7 on the Richter scale.

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There’s also been large earthquakes along the eastern boundaries of Canada, such as off the coast of Newfoundland and Baffin Island.

“While they’re rare events, they do happen,” says Cassidy.

However, the largest and most frequent earthquakes take place along Canada’s West Coast, from Vancouver Island, all the way up to the Yukon, where up to magnitude 9 earthquakes have been recorded.

As for the “Big One”, which is expected along the South coast, Cassidy says it’s not overdue but we’re well into the cycle of when it can be expected.

These earthquakes are rare and happen roughly every 300 to 800 or 900 years. The last one was in 1700, 323 years ago, so we’re certainly into the cycle.John Cassidy, earthquake seismologist, Natural Resources Canada

Other types of extreme earthquakes have been felt in recent years. In 2012, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake - the same magnitude as the one in Turkey - occurred offshore in Haida Gwaii. It quake triggered lots of landslides and a tsunami, but it was a sparsely populated area and there was little damage to structures because of the distance factor.

Canada earthquake warning system in the works

While there’s no way to predict earthquakes, Cassidy says the way we protect ourselves from them are through building codes, which are updated every five years, and bridge codes. There are also models developed of what we can expect across Canada when it comes to the types of ground shaking and how long it could last.

Experts do this by looking at recorded earthquakes across the country and large ones across the world, which are similar to the ones that are known to happen in Canada.

What’s currently being developed are early warning systems, which don’t predict earthquakes but provide people with seconds to minutes of time before strong shaking arrives. The system detects the waves that occur after the earthquake has happened, so those in the surrounding areas can be alerted.

“It takes time for those waves to travel,” Cassidy explains. “Really strong waves travel at about three and a half kilometers each second. So if you’re a distance away from the earthquake, it’s possible to get some warning before it arrives.”

Similar systems currently operate in Mexico, Japan, California and Oregon. It allows for high speed trains and traffic to stop from running into tunnels, alarms in hospitals to alert surgeons from operating, and elevators to stop working.

“There’s a lot of automated systems that do some very simple but very useful things before strong shaking arrives,” he says.

Cassidy says that warning system should be available across Canada by next March.