Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Climate Change - Earthquake Connection?

As we were watching coverage of the devastating Haiti quake last night, my wife asked me about a Wall Street Journal article I blogged about back in 2006, which explored the relationship between melting polar ice caps and an increase in tectonic activity:

Get this, regarding the work of geoscientist Allen Glazner of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:

When he analyzed 800,000 years of activity from about 50 volcanoes in eastern California (the age of rocks formed from volcanic ash can be determined by radioactive dating), Prof. Glazner found that "the peaks of volcanic activity occurred when ice was retreating globally. At first I thought it was crazy, but other scientists also found evidence that climate affects volcanism." The likely mechanism: glacial retreat lifts pressure that had kept the magma conduit closed.

When it comes to global warming and earthquakes, geoscientist Patrick Wu of the University of Calgary warns that:

"The pressure of the ice sheet suppresses earthquakes, so removing that load triggers them."

Does that mean that the Haiti quake has any link to the melting of the polar ice caps?  Who knows.  Speaking with a prominent climate scientist about the subject, he called this area of research 'highly speculative' (though admittedly interesting).

But to see geoscientists finding that there even may be a link between climate disruption and tectonic activity is certainly unsettling.  I mean, does that finding extend to supervolcanoes like Yellowstone and Mt. Tambora?

Even if the climate change-earthquake connection remains a speculative field, the topic is a reminder of how by destabilizing the earth's climate system, we truly have no idea what kind of Pandora's Box we're opening...

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1 comment:

  1. Keep in mind, tectonic plates are straining at certain points. It doesn't take a lot to cause a slip.
    We need to stop the private auto... now! Start by making public transit fare-free.