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This week I’ve been asked a number of questions about earthquakes and weather. Do earthquakes affect weather? Is there “earthquake weather”? What about the connect between earthquakes and volcanic activity?
What is Earthquakes Weather?
Tales of “earthquake weather”—still, dry, almost breathless conditions that precede quakes—have existed since the ancient Greeks. They are myths. Earthquakes occur in any weather.
There are other stories of “earthquake clouds”, long straight clouds that form for days over a fault before it finally shakes. The theory is that the extreme stress prior to a quake may vaporize underground water. The phenomenon is being scientifically examined, but remain largely unproven.
It appears that most of these stories are based on the eternal hope that something can warn us ahead of time about these giant seismic events. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes or volcano eruptions, we still cannot predict an earthquake early enough to save people’s lives.
Equally unproven is the idea that giant earthquakes affect weather. According to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake shifted the Earth’s axis by 9.8 inches and speeded the Earth’s rotation by 1.8 microseconds. If it created tidal waves around the entire Pacific, could it have altered a few atmospheric currents in the process?
Scientists have studied the aftermaths of recent giant earthquakes in Indonesia (2004), Chile (2010), Haiti (2010) and New Zealand (2011). So far the only weather results that they have noted is slight local cooling when urban centers generate less warming energy due to the general devastation.
Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Weather
The research that appears most promising is focused on the impact of these giant quakes on volcano eruptions. If an explosion is large enough, its ashes can enter the stratosphere and block incoming sunlight, cooling the climate for a few years. Can a giant earthquake trigger one of these volcano eruptions?
If superimpose a map of active volcanoes in the world on a map of earthquakes during the past 30 years, you can see that they match perfectly. Both are on the boundaries between tectonic plates. Volcanic eruptions are commonly observed sometimes after a big earthquake so that suggests they are indeed interconnected.
However, one does not always cause the other. In the case of the “Ring of Fire”— a belt of earthquake epicentres, volcanoes, and tectonic plate boundaries that fringe the Pacific basin—both volcanic eruptions and frequent earthquakes occur but the earthquakes do not really cause eruptions. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in each part of the Ring of Fire occur independently of eruptions and earthquakes in the other parts of the Ring.
Since 2000, scientists have satellite data that allows them to explore how earthquakes and volcanic activity may be linked. The ongoing research shows a lot of promise.
What we do know is that earthquakes do not affect weather direction. Statistically, there is approximately an equal distribution of earthquakes in cold weather, hot weather, rainy weather, and so forth.
The forces of climate appear to be even greater and remain unshaken.
With an academic background in international business, James is a writer, editor and researcher for Browning Media LLC, helping to present accurate climatological projections. Read More from James J. Garriss