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Hurricanes and typhoons may trigger major earthquakes, according to new study

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December 30, 2011

Is this cyclone a tremor trigger? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Is this cyclone a tremor trigger? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Hurricanes and typhoons could contribute to other natural disasters that occur long after the rain and winds subside. A new study led by University of Miami (UM) scientist Shimon Wdowinski finds a link between earthquakes and tropical storms, and shows that they may have actually initiated some major temblors, including the recent 2010 quakes in Haiti and Taiwan.

"Very wet rain events are the trigger," said Wdowinski, associate research professor at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "The heavy rain induces thousands of landslides and severe erosion, which removes ground material from the Earth's surface, releasing the stress load and encouraging movement along faults ... the reduced load (can) unclamp the faults, which can promote an earthquake."

Wdowinski and a colleague from Florida International University analyzed data from major quakes in Taiwan and Haiti and found commonality between them, with a number of large earthquakes happening within the four years following a very wet tropical cyclone season.

Their research identified a handful of such instances from the past half-century: In Taiwan, the 2009 Morakot typhoon was followed by a magnitude 6.2 quake in 2009 and a 6.4 in 2010; Typhoon Herb in 1996 was followed by a 6.2 in 1998 and a 7.6 in 1999; 1969's Typhoon Flossie was followed by a 6.2 in 1972; the 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti devastated the nation just a year-and-a-half after two hurricanes and two tropical storms drenched the island nation in the span of less than a month.

According to the researchers, earthquakes are only likely to be triggered by tropical cyclones - including hurricanes and typhoons - along so-called inclined faults, where one side is above the other.

A similar study, published in 2009 in the journal Nature, found a link between typhoons in Taiwan and "slow quakes" - less violent temblors that release their built-up pressure over the course of hours or days instead of a few seconds.

Both studies are tied to the theory of hydroseismicity, first put forth in 1987, that suggests a link between localized variations in rainfall and seismic activity. Some supporters of the hypothesis have called for the deployment of more stream gauging stations to one day complement earthquake monitoring and forecasting.

The researchers from the University of Miami and Florida International University say they plan to analyze patterns in other regions that suffer from tropical cyclones and earthquakes, such as the Philippines and Japan.

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
4 Comments

While this article says that the mechanisms causing the quakes are landslides and severe erosion, I suspect that large quantities of water soaking into a fault could help lubricate it. If the water works its way deep enough, subterranean heat could generate steam pressure which would also increase the probability of the fault slipping. That this could take up to four years is no surprise. It would also be interesting to check the statistical correlation with the tidal forces with respect to the positions of the sun and moon. Even the lower atmospheric pressure of the typhoons themselves over large areas could produce that last straw that breaks the camels back.

Bob
1st January, 2012 @ 04:44 pm PST

Sounds like bunkum designed to give greenies an excuse to blame humans for more events obviously unconnected with our existence.

Quakes are going to happen - they're pressurized time-bombs. The micro-timing of the final event is irrelevant.

christopher
3rd January, 2012 @ 12:34 am PST

Just a thought ... maybe its just me.

Anyone think it could be the other way around? major fault lines generate greater heat therefore evaporate water quicker and in greater quantities leading to lower atmospheric pressure encouraging typhoons

T.A. Nasir
3rd January, 2012 @ 05:13 am PST

There's a correlation...establishing cause(s) and effects remains.

Lot's of things factor into quakes--quakes aren't all the same kind of event.

Tides not only shift billions of tonnes of water, but billions more of rock.

Ice melt is/will move billions of tonnes of water toward the equatorial bulge.

Changes in the planetary interior can lift, drop or move crust rock in any direction.

Charles Barnard
3rd January, 2012 @ 06:58 pm PST
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