Big Hurricanes Beget Big Earthquakes?


Where most people are of risk related to seismic activity. Click for larger image.: Credit: Benjamin D. Hennig, Sashi Research Group, University of Sheffield.A visualization of all major earthquakes compiled in the Global Significant Earthquake Database, showing where most people are at risk related to seismic activity. Click for larger image. Credit: Benjamin D. Hennig, Sasi Research Group, University of Sheffield.

A new study suggests that earthquakes, including the big temblors in Haiti and Taiwan in 2010, might have been triggered by tropical cyclones.

Researchers analyzed data from quakes of magnitude-6 and above in Taiwan and Haiti and found a strong relationship between the two, with large earthquakes occurring within a four-year window following a very wet tropical cyclone season.

In Taiwan, these extremely wet tropical cyclones possibly triggered these major earthquakes:

  • Typhoon Morakot in 2009: a 6.2 temblor in 2009 and a 6.4 in 2010

  • Typhoon Herb in 1996: a 6.2 quake in 1998 and a 7.6 in 1999

  • Typhoon Flossie: a 6.2 quake in 1972

In Haiti, the 7.0 earthquake of 2010 struck 1.5 years after a 25-day deluge when the island was drenched by two hurricanes and two tropical storms.

Tracks of all tropical cyclones worldwide from 1985 to 2005. : Credit: NASA, Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons.Tracks of all tropical cyclones worldwide from 1985 to 2005.  Credit: NASA, Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons.

So what’s the mechanism? Possibly that rain and rain-induced landslides rapidly erode the Earth’s surface above the fault, lessening its load and priming it for a release. The research, led by Shimon Wdowinski at the University of Miami, is being presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting underway in San Francisco.

Since current climate models call for the possibility of stronger tropical cyclones (and possibly more of them as well), then we might expect more big quakes where cyclones and seismic faults intersect.

Other research suggests the frequency of earthquakes increases where glaciers are rapidly melting and similarly unloading faults. So it seems our warming, stormier, and less icy world might be a shakier world too.

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate