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March 12, 2011 10:30 PM UTC

Earthquakes and Climate Change

  • by: wade norris

 In September of 2009, just after  back to back earthquakes in Samoa and Indonesia,  I wrote an article entitled “Climate Change, A whole lot of shaking going on”  where scientists have theorized that Earthquakes are increasing due to an unlikely cause –  Climate Change.

The theory is that while Earthquakes on different Tectonic plates do not cause others to occur, for instance the Samoan and Indonesian quakes happened within one day of each other, they can be correlated to other quakes and seismic activity – specifically to ‘glacial quakes’ caused by fast melting and moving multi-ton glaciers on Greenland.

It’s been nearly 2 years since then, let’s reconsider this theory, and remember, 2 years is not even a blink of an eye in Geologic time.

Consider since September of 2009 the following events:

Haiti suffers the worst Earthquake in 200 years January 12th of 2010.

Next,While not covered widely by the news, an unexplained Earthquake swarm begins and continues in Yellowstone Park just 7 days later.

A month and a half later Chile is hit by an 8.8 quake that displaced 1.5 million residents.

Earthquake swarms have also been recorded in the Mt. Saint Helens region – setting off renewed fears of an eruption.  

Increasing earthquake swarms in California are puzzling scientists but seem explainable due to its tectonic location,  however, tectonic location can not explain the Earthquake swarms occurring now in Arkansas.

February 2011 – Christchurch, New Zealand has its worst quake in 80 years.

Finally, April of 2010 Iceland’s long dormant Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupted closing British Airports for months. It appears that the same area began experiencing an Earthquake swarm on March 10th, 2011 – the day before Japan was hit by the 8.8 Earthquake – the worst in Japan’s recorded history.

While the number of quakes has remained constant, the number of high intensity quakes has increased.  Already, in the decade of the 2000 to 2010 we have had more 8.5 Earthquakes than the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s combined – 4 total, with none in the 3 previous decades.

Without dismissing other theories for these quakes – ranging from gas drilling to the prophecy of the Mayan calendar – consider the Climate Change theory again.

From the original article:

…the Earth’s tectonic plates have sensitive fault lines, which when triggered to move, cause earthquakes and volcanoes. As a sphere, the Earth ‘reflects’ vibration internally, so that an earthquake in the South Pacific is picked up by seismologists across the world — say in Alaska. The Indonesian quake resonated so strongly that it set off quakes in Alaska. (Samoa also had a 7.9 earthquake in March.)

Now, add in this to the equation. In Greenland, and to a lesser extent, Antarctica, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and more importantly, sliding in rapid bursts. This is caused by moulins, which are holes that melting water form from the top of a glacier to the bottom. The water then lubricates and melts the underside of the glacier, causing them to detach from the bedrock — and creating a ‘slip-n-slide’ for glaciers that weigh in the megatons — some the size of Manhattan.

Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said in Ilulissat [Greenland] yesterday: “We have seen a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea. The ice is moving at 2 meters an hour on a front 5km [3 miles] long and 1,500 meters deep. That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year.”

The glacier is now moving at 15km a year into the sea although in surges it moves even faster. He measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes – an extraordinary event.

The result, each ‘slide’ of these multi-ton glaciers sets off an ‘ice quake’ that register an average of 3 to 5 on the Richter scale. This might sound minor, but these are occurring multiple times a year. This means that the Earth is being jolted repeatedly by these ice quakes, destabilizing faults lines which has many, many consequences.…

The latest scientific discipline to enter the fray over global warming is geology.

And the forecasts from some quarters are dramatic – not only will the earth shake, it will spit fire.

A number of geologists say glacial melting due to climate change will unleash pent-up pressures in the Earth’s crust, causing extreme geological events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

A cubic metre of ice weighs nearly a tonne and some glaciers are more than a kilometre thick. When the weight is removed through melting, the suppressed strains and stresses of the underlying rock come to life.

University of Alberta geologist Patrick Wu compares the effect to that of a thumb pressed on a soccer ball – when the pressure of the thumb is removed, the ball springs back to its original shape.

Because the earth is so viscous the rebound happens slowly, and the quakes that occasionally shake Eastern Canada are attributed to ongoing rebound from the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

Melting of the ice that covers Antarctica or Greenland would have a similar impact, but the process would be accelerated due to the human-induced greenhouse effect.

“What happens is the weight of this thick ice puts a lot of stress on the earth,” says Wu. “The weight sort of suppresses the earthquakes but when you melt the ice the earthquakes get triggered.”

The Earth’s crust is more sensitive than some might think. There are well-documented cases of dams causing earthquakes when the weight of the water behind a dam fills a reservoir.

Alan Glazner, a volcano specialist at the University of North Carolina, said he was initially incredulous when he found a link between climate and volcanic activity off the coast of California.

“But then I went to the library and did some research and found that in many places around the world especially around the Mediterranean they see similar sorts of correlations.”

“When you melt glacial ice, several hundred metres to a kilometre thick . . . you’ve decreased the load on the crust and so you’ve decreased the pressure holding the volcanic conduits closed.

“They’re cracks, that’s how magmas gets to the surface . . . and where they hit the surface, that’s where you get a volcano.”  

(written over 2 years before the historical eruption in Iceland)

And it is not likely to slow down, but may instead speed up:

quakes ranged from six to 15 per year from 1993 to 2002, then jumped to 20 in 2003, 23 in 2004, and 32 in the first 10 months of 2005 – matching an increase in Greenland temperatures.

That is tripling of earthquakes in a 15 year period and more importantly an exponential change in the activity.

This trend is causing changes exponentially. For instance, since the Arctic has opened an ice free passage, the Arctic is no longer a stationary sea — currents from the Pacific and the Atlantic are encroaching into the Arctic circle and creating an additional heating feedback loop — which is as equally dangerous as a heating feedback loop as the loss of reflective ice.

This video reports the feedback loop that Greenpeace scientists are seeing in Greenland – as reported by Al Jazeera – and curiously missed by the US media.

“Greenland’s ice sheet has more than doubled its contribution to sea level increases in the past 7 years due to rapid and unpredicted loss of ice….There are large volumes of warm subtropical waters flowing through these fjords very quickly (causing melting)…One glacier is traveling 38 meters every day.

This report indicates that glaciers have tripled in their speed of movement towards the ocean since 2004. There are many consequences to this activity.

First, Glaciers entering the ocean immediately cause sea level rise – threatening life for millions of people and animals of low lying islands..

Second, each time a glacier moves, another quake occurs – sending a jolt throughout the Earth – destabilizing numerous fault lines.

While the debate about the danger of Climate Change has been discussed in gradual changes throughout the next century, it seems that Climate Change is much more direct and destructive resulting in exponentially stronger Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis.

It’s time for our politicians to stop make concessions to Fossil Fuel industries in the name of ‘Energy concerns’ and start making decisions based on limiting just how dangerous Climate Change is going to be.


42 thoughts on “Earthquakes and Climate Change

  1. But I don’t think you reach this conclusion:

    it seems that Climate Change is much more direct and destructive resulting in exponentially stronger Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis.

    At best I arrive at a ‘maybe’

      1. that the Tea Party came into existence and Michele Bachmann rose to national prominence. If that isn’t an incentive to fix the climate, I don’t know what is.

            1. That’s 62.5% winning percentage.

              Or 101 wins over the season – which would win the division.

              Continue winning 625 into October- and ….welll, let’s just say I’ll shut up about ofer Wrigley.

              I’d love 10-6 all year long.

    1. Correlation does not equal causation. This is the kind of junk science that only gives ammo to the anti-climate change people.

      This is the kind of story that belongs in The Weekly World News, or The Onion.

        1. including this.  But the evidence you present is far from convincing and certainly does not support the conclusion you reach.

          I don’t think the article you link to goes anywhere near reaching the conclusion you seem to.

          The redistribution of lithospheric masses, ‘rebounding’ from the glacial loading of the last ice age, produces long term (‘secular’) trends in the Earth’s gravity field. These signals literally appear as trends when viewed over 5 to 10 year time periods.

          Earthquakes and volcanoes are quick events, not measured over 5-10 years.  The article does not mention tectonics.  

          Sure, raise Fox and Friends as if that is what L2.0 or I am saying–that until Fox and Friends is convinced then we can’t have the conversation?  Science starts with hypothesis, which this may be–although you don’t fill in enough details to convince me it even reaches that bar.  Is it an interesting correlation worthy of a diary–I think so.  Is it anywhere near conclusive?  No, not even close.  It has nothing to do with Fox News, although they will certainly exploit any alarmism to try and poo-poo climate change:

          “Global warming alarmists will exploit any natural disaster to promote their anti-fossil fuel agenda,” Tom Borelli of the Free Enterprise Project told The Daily Caller, adding that the climate change reaction is a result of the “global warming spin machine.”

          “First it’s global warming, then it’s climate change, now it’s probably tectonic instability – no doubt all caused by man,” he said.

          Read more:

          Meanwhile, where the science is strong we have ample reason to be worried about and try to address climate change.  

        2. I’m interested in giving them as few talking points as possible.

          Turns out shit like this makes our jobs a lot harder.

          “Post junk science blacklash”

          1. am I exploiting this recent tragedy – or have I been writing about this subject for 3 years now and am eager to see more of the scientific community to engage the debate?

            And would you care to explain ‘exploiting this recent tragedy to further’ (my) agenda?

              1. he’s been posting these writings. If you’re nice, he’ll invite you over to his “library” to read years worth of writing on every topic imaginable.  

                1. Your diary raises lots of ‘what ifs’ (and myself I’m OK with that) but none really support the ‘ergo’ you seem to think it does (which is my problem with it), and which I think just gives more fodder to the Fox News, other deniers, and thus sows doubt in the public, many of whom we do need to convince.  

                  Expert or not, imagined or otherwise, you still need to make your case when you raise a rather unconventional notion.  I’ll go with Occam and suggest plate tectonics myself.  

    2. some information that you might like to see

      from NASA

      NASA Finds Polar Ice Adding More To Rising Seas

      PASADENA, Calif. — The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a new NASA-funded satellite study. The findings of the study — the longest to date of changes in polar ice sheet mass — suggest these ice sheets are overtaking ice loss from Earth’s mountain glaciers and ice caps to become the dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted….

      From our own Sec of State Hillary Clinton


      Hillary Clinton: Al Jazeera offers “real news” – U.S. media not keeping up

      “Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news,” Clinton said. “You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”

      Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch adds:


      And it’s not just about covering the Middle East; we first noticed it in Al Jazeera English’s respectable internationalist focus on the 2009 UN Climate Summit, which most U.S. media essentially ignored.


      Al Jazeera English, in contrast with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and C-Span, covered the addresses to the Summit by President Hu Jintao of China, Prime Minister Hatoyama of Japan, President Sarkozy of France, and other government leaders, and by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairman Pachauri.  Needless to say, the plaintive rebuke of the other leaders by President Nasheed of the Maldive Islands-one of the world’s lowest-lying countries, with about 300,000 people living mainly on land less than two meters above sea level, threatened with being engulfed by rising sea level-passed unremarked. The event, and the words of Obama and other world leaders, went largely unattended-to by Americans.

      I include this for you, Nancy, to illustrate how the video linked in the diary from Al Jazeera covering Greenpeace’s scientific studies of the arctic are much more in depth compared to the compromised and corporately controlled US media.

      What’s frustrating is trying to explain to the disconnect here in the United States to people in government on small island nations who can’t understand how news does not reach the eyes and ears of Americans, but then again I could easily cut and paste the comments in this diary to let them know what its really like.

      1. and that the Maldives should be worried.  And I have a bookmark to Al Jazeera right on my browser, because I think they are a pretty top notch outfit.  

        Remind me how this connects climate change to earthquakes and volcanoes again??

        1. “What happens is the weight of this thick ice puts a lot of stress on the earth,” says Wu. “The weight sort of suppresses the earthquakes but when you melt the ice the earthquakes get triggered.”

          1. And where did he say this?

            And how does this relate to melting ice in the Arctic triggering an earthquake in Japan.  

            I’m not saying its impossible, mind you. But I think that other explanations are more likely, as per Occam. I think that sloppy reasoning and bad use of science doesn’t help in convincing the public.  

            Until you present a real argument that does not require some grand Leap of Faith to reach a conclusion consider me unconvinced.  

                1. I think the earth is a finely tuned system, that we have been upsetting for a while.

                  But I still think this is pretty far a field, and having reviewed the ‘evidence’ he posted, it does not seem to be suggesting that melting ice can cause a massive earthquake 1/4 of the globe away.  

                  I think such sensationalism doesn’t help the cause of getting people to respond to climate change, which is real and we need to respond to, because it just looks like ‘OMG, they’ll blame anything on global warming.’ and that global warming ‘advocates’ are using a terrible disaster to their own purposes.  We all get smeared with one brush.  

                  1. for transmitting stress and strain through the mantle, then he may have a case. Deep drilling studies near the San Andreas Fault indicate this isn’t so.

  2. Specifically waste water injection wells, than climate change IMO.

    And while I think it is an interesting notion, in other ways I think ‘raising an alarm’ based on conjecture (and not science, by any stretch–it’s merely something that is not even quite a hypotheses)–doesn’t help. Without more information and data its too ‘chicken little’ and likely to be met with ridicule (by deniers, fence sitters, and the self-interested) rather than as compulsion to act.

    Climate change is scary enough, and we have a hard enough time convincing the public that it is even happening in spite of overwhelming evidence. We are already looking at increases in severe weather, drought, wildfire, rising sea levels, and more resilient and wide-spread disease and pestilence.  And the science on those effects is quite sound.

    I believe that the earth and its systems are finely tuned, so I am not saying it couldn’t be. But major earthquakes, and frequent earthquakes, and volcanoes, are all expected–and very regular–along the Ring of Fire.

    In any case, I think it should be framed as–this is interesting (which I think it is) and could it be? rather than as QED, which the diarist seems to arrive at (unsupported IMO) here:

    While the debate about the danger of Climate Change has been discussed in gradual changes throughout the next century, it seems that Climate Change is much more direct and destructive resulting in exponentially stronger Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis.

    Just my two cents…

  3. While the number of quakes has remained constant, the number of high intensity quakes has increased.  Already, in the decade of the 2000 to 2010 we have had more 8.5 Earthquakes than the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s combined – 4 total, with none in the 3 previous decades.

    I’m pretty sure one would have to look at a much larger time frame to suggest that several large quakes in 40 years, even if concentrated in one ten year span, is in any way unusual.  

    Then there is the loose language in your sources  ‘many geologists’ and such…how many?  And which ones?  There is some guy mentioned from North Carolina–but no link to his work or anyway to even gauge the veracity of either what he says or what the author of the piece you cite, attributes to him.

    Plus the quake and volcanism they seem to be referring to is localized, an increase in Greenland–for instance–that correlates with a rise in temperature in Greenland.  Because the pressure of the ice sheet on top of the earth contains the pressure inside the earth (at that location).  Where there is a hotspot underneath (and I understand there are quite a few in Greenland) the decrease in downward pressure allows the magma to rise more readily.  

    Again–connect this for me to a massive earthquake thousands of miles away from the Arctic Circle, across an ocean.  Even the sources you cite don’t support the grand leap you make in your conclusion.  

    You don’t make a very good case.  Again, I think it would be better as a diary that raises the questions–and asks readers to weigh in perhaps, than to fit events into your foregone conclusion.  

    Not that you would want nor even consider my advice.  Because it seems that anyone who challenges you is somehow an enemy…

    It’s this type of sloppiness, and your inability to even consider others’ critique without accusing us of being corporate media stooges, that I find a bit insufferable.  

      1. and consider the increase in seismic monitoring since the 70’s, let alone what little existed before.  

        The number of seismic stations has increased from about 350 in 1931 to many thousands today. As a result, many more earthquakes are reported than in the past, but this is because of the vast improvement in instrumentation, rather than an increase in the number of earthquakes. The USGS estimates that, since 1900, there have been an average of 18 major earthquakes (magnitude 7.0-7.9) and one great earthquake (magnitude 8.0 or greater) per year, and that this average has been relatively stable.[21] In recent years, the number of major earthquakes per year has decreased, though this probably a statistical fluctuation rather than a systematic trend. More detailed statistics on the size and frequency of earthquakes is available from the USGS.[22]

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