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Does Climate Change Affect Earthquakes In Any Way?

Author: Rin Takahashi 

Editors: Rachel Chen, Yueshan Yu

Artist: Kyra Wang

262 people died, over 2200 were injured, and thousands of houses, factories, and buildings were destroyed. These were the fatal effects of the two largest earthquakes this year: the 7.5 magnitude earthquake at Japan’s Noto peninsula of Ishikawa on New Year’s Day and the 7.4 magnitude earthquake at Hualien, Taiwan The Japanese government has estimated that the Noto peninsula earthquake caused infrastructure damage totaling 1.1 to 2.6 trillion yen (about $7.44 to $17.59 billion) in the three hard-hit prefectures. Researchers are now investigating  whether intense weather are related to this problem.  The question in debate is: Does climate change affect the frequency or intensity of earthquakes? 

Precipitation rates are associated with the frequency of earthquakes. Studies have shown that in the Himalayas, the seismicity rate, the number of earthquakes in a specified interval of space, time, and magnitude, correlates with stress rate variations. These variations are the forces applied to  rock that may cause deformation due to atmospheric pressure. The Himalayas are known for intense background seismicity along the front of the high range. However, in the winter, stress rate variation is extreme because surface load decreases due to the summer monsoon, where abundant rain pours quickly. In summer, stress variation is lower because the free water level over the whole gangetic basin rises about 4 meters, stabilizing the crust horizontally and vertically. Research has also shown that the seismicity rate in winter is twice as high as in summer at all magnitudes, indicating the correlation between seismic activity and intense rainfall caused by global warming. 

Kangwon National University in South Korea used electron spin resonance to explore the potential link between climate change and earthquakes. They used electron spin resonances to determine the ages at which fault gouge patches were reactivated. They analyzed 454 electron spin and found that the periodicity of paleo-earthquakes on the Korean peninsula coincides with the interglacial period associated with marine isotope stages. These findings suggest that the long-term stress induced by sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean may contribute to seismic activity Additionally, the study also proposes that significant earthquakes in neighboring countries, like the Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan, could cause movement between two plates, potentially leading to shared shallow crustal deformation. Thus, the rise in sea level increases the frequency of earthquakes. 

Climate change could cause earthquakes by increasing the mass of water on Earth’s crust. One example is from Japan in 2018, when a typhoon saturated hill slopes in Hokkaido, increasing the amount of water in the soil. Consequently, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck the next day, causing thousands of landslides. This study aims to help countries like Japan, which lie on the Ring of Fire, to be prepared and resilient. The research is expected to be completed by 2027. 

People have adapted to climate change throughout history, but this adaptation is unable to prevent it from natural destruction. Acknowledging the frequency and intensity of earthquakes can help prevent the worst scenarios. Not enough research has been done to conclusively support the theory; therefore, the ongoing studies of earthquakes are important.

 

Citations

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Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis.” The Asahi Shimbun, 26 Jan.

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Bettinelli, Pierre, et al. “Caltech.” Seasonal Variations of Seismicity and Geodetic Strain in the

Himalaya Induced by Surface Hydrology, 22 Nov. 2007, 

Kim, Man-Jae, and Hee-Kwon Lee. “Long-Term Patterns of Earthquakes Influenced by

Climate Change: Insights from Earthquake Recurrence and Stress Field Changes across

the Korean Peninsula during Interglacial Periods.” Quaternary Science Reviews,

Blackett, Matthew. “Climate Change Could Be Triggering More Earthquakes and Volcanic

Eruptions. Here’s How.” World Economic Forum, 14 Aug. 2023,

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