Climate change and earthquakes

From Treehugger:

If you ask me, now is a perfectly reasonable time to be analyzing such possible causal relationships, like the one between climate change and earthquakes (which set off tsunamis). You are, after all, perhaps turning to a green site like TreeHugger to examine the environmental implications of various world events. But some insist this reeks of opportunism (especially those amongst the anti-climate crowd) — and therefore should be immediately written off as sensationalism.

But there are perfectly appropriate ways to treat the story. For instance, Grist’s Christopher Mims has a good piece pointing out scientists’ concerns that increased carbon emissions are leading to more earthquakes (though the headline’s pushing it). Here’s a snippet:

In a little-heeded warning issued at a 2009 conference on the subject, experts outlined a range of mechanisms by which climate change could already be causing more earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity. “When the ice is lost, the earth’s crust bounces back up again and that triggers earthquakes, which trigger submarine landslides, which cause tsunamis,” Bill McGuire, professor at University College London, told Reuters.

Melting ice masses change the pressures on the underlying earth, which can lead to earthquakes and tsunamis, but that’s just the beginning. Rising seas also change the balance of mass across earth’s surface, putting new strain on old earthquake faults, and may have been partly to blame for the devastating 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia, according to experts from the China Meteorological Administration.

It’s interesting stuff, and a little frightening. But it’s not sensationalism. What does, ironically, veer more towards sensationalism, are the attempts by opponents of climate action to lambast such discussions as opportunistic, to try to shut down the dialogue. For instance, the right-wing blog the Daily Caller has a very poorly reported article that attempts to poke fun of Twitter users who’ve tweeted links between climate and earthquakes. “Twitter blames earthquakes on global warming,” the headline mocks. The author then gathers some tweets that make the whole idea sound stupid, and contacts an “expert” who confirms her suspicions:

“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.”

Case closed — Lefty global warming alarmists are nincompoops! This is, of course, entirely unfair. Is there a definitive link between climate change and more earthquakes? No, but there’s some compelling evidence that there could be a relationship between the two. Preemptively trying to shut down the dialogue by shouting at the curious is the truly sensationalist move here.

4 thoughts on “Climate change and earthquakes

  1. You had an article a while ago about measuring the strength of hurricanes through seismic readings. So, yeah.

  2. “Preemptively trying to shut down the dialogue” is the deniers primary tool. I mean they sure don’t gather and analyze any ice cores on their own, do they? Recall in particular the large number of tornadoes we had a couple of years ago. People would wonder “does that have anything to do with climate change”? Oh, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO was the deniers “contribution”. Except large numbers of the tornadoes were occurring in the upper Midwest, way north of what anybody would think of as “Tornado Alley”, and way early in the season, too.

    I’ll bet anything that volcano that erupted in Iceland last year, disrupting jet travel over Europe for several weeks, occurred at least in part due to ice melting, and exactly the land rebound effect the article above is discussing.

  3. As a person that has a degree in Geology and Earth Sciences, the idea that the ice melting, changing Earth’s crust, is perfectly reasonable. The glaciers growing on our continent did a lot of shaping the geomorphology that we see today.

  4. Isn’t there some thing out there about the Antarctic ice floes calving faster, and the continent under them springing up? I thought that was pretty much an accepted scenario.

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