Global climate change

Link Between Severe Earthquakes and Melting Glaciers

3/16/2011, 5:59:06 AM

Are the world's tectonic plates becoming more active?

Could the rapid melting of glaciers due to climate change be a cause?

The number and severity of earthquakes appears to have increased over the last 30 years in parallel to accelerating glacial melt.

Some scientists think that glacier is lightening the load on the earth, allowing its mantle to rebound upwards, causing tectonic plates to become unstuck, according to the Montreal Gazette article.

Location of major tectonic plates across the globe, courtesy of the USGS.


In addition, the Montreal Gazette article provided the following in italics............

"There is certainly some literature that talks about the increased occurrence of volcanic eruptions and the removing of load from the crust by deglaciation," said Martin Sharp, a glaciologist at the University of Alberta. "It changes the stress load in the crust and maybe it opens up routes for lava to come to the surface."

Sharp added that "it is conceivable that there would be some increase in earthquake activity during periods of rapid changes on the Earth's crust."

However, other scientists say those tectonic movements are too deep to be impacted by pressure releases from glacier melt. But what about the more dangerous shallower quakes?

Andrew Hynes, a tectonics expert at McGill University, said the issue is not so much the load shift on the earth's crust, but rather the increased fluid pressure in the fault that lubricates the rock, allowing the plate to slide. "All earthquakes except those produced by volcanic activity are essentially the unsticking of faults," he said. In other words, if you pump fluid into a fault, it will reduce the friction and the rock can slide. Could the stress transfers and the added melt from glaciers inject more fluid into the rocks creating earthquakes?

"It would only apply to earthquakes that are at shallow depths," he said. "But I wouldn't push it any further than that."


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Global climate change