Scientists Say Global Warming Will Cause Deadly Earthquakes

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A volcanic eruption in Chile, massive earthquakes rocking Nepal — obviously, this is what mankind can expect as the world warms and causes glaciers to melt and rainfall to get more intense. Or something like that.

It may sound ridiculous, but scientists say there may be a link between global warming, volcanoes and tectonic plates beneath the surface that cause earthquakes. Newsweek has jumped on the global warming-earthquake link, reporting that the “mechanism here is rather more mundane [than a Hollywood blockbuster], though potentially no less devastating.”

“Climate change may play a critical role in triggering certain faults in certain places where they could kill a hell of a lot of people,” Professor Bill McGuire, a professor at University College London, told Newsweek. “These stress or strain variations – just the pressure of a handshake in geological terms – are perfectly capable of triggering a quake if that fault is ready to go.”

Scientists say that seismic faults are “very sensitive to the small pressure changes brought by change in the climate.” Warming ice sheets and flooding are changing the weight load of the planet and putting stress on seismic faults like the one in the Himalayas, scientists say.

“This effect could certainly have made the Nepal earthquake come sooner,” echoed Prof. Roland Burgmann of the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California in Berkeley.

In his new book, McGuire ponders “the effects of the 100m rise of sea-levels that’s threatened should all the remaining ice on the planet melt,” reports Newsweek. “Across the world,” McGuire writes in his book, “as sea levels climb remorselessly, the load-related bending of the crust around the margins of the ocean basins might – in time – act to sufficiently ‘unclamp’ coastal faults such as California’s San Andreas, allowing them to move more easily; at the same time acting to squeeze magma out of susceptible volcanoes that are primed and ready to blow.”

McGuire’s doomsday scenario, however, is very unlikely. Even the most pessimistic sea rise projections show sea levels rising a few feet by the end of the century. But McGuire insists that sea level rise in Alaska (where sea levels actually tend to fall) have affected some volcanic activity.

“There’s a volcano in Alaska, Pavlov, that only erupts during the autumn and winter. The 10cm or 15cm rise in sea level during the winter months, when low pressure comes over, is enough to bend the crust and squeeze magma out. That’s an example of how tiny a change you need,” McGuire  said.

Newsweek is not the first publication to tie global warming to earthquakes. On Monday, published a piece by Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava, an assistant professor at India’s Kanpur University, blaming warming on the massive quakes that rocked Nepal over the weekend.

“It now appears that there exists a clear relationship between the global warming and earthquakes and other under earth activities,” Srivastava wrote.

“Initially it may look a little surprising but researches may lead us to this aspect. let us also look the issue from this viewpoint too,” Srivastava told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Soon I will bring some facts in light.”

Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake Saturday that destroyed whole communities and killed more than 3,000 people. Officials say thousands more were injured by the earthquake and an aftershock on Sunday.

Scientists have also tried to link global warming to increased volcanic activity. Scientists studying volcanoes in Iceland argue that ice melting off the island is causing it to rise and could cause more volcanic activity.

“Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” Kathleen Compton, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona, told Time.

“As the glaciers melt, the pressure on the underlying rocks decreases,” Compton said. “Rocks at very high temperatures may stay in their solid phase if the pressure is high enough. As you reduce the pressure, you effectively lower the melting temperature.”

“High heat content at lower pressure creates an environment prone to melting these rising mantle rocks, which provides magma to the volcanic systems,” echoed fellow geoscientist Richard Bennett.

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