2011-03-16 13:15:06Earthquakes, volcanoes & climate change
Rob Painting

Working my way through a few papers at the moment. One in particular has a neat graph of sea level rise in a certain region compared to earthquake frequency & volcanism, however it is from another paper (Russian) which I cannot locate. 

Just thought it interesting that my idea wasn't without some foundation in the first place. 

I'd really like to write a blog post, or posts, on the topic (no not the study & graph above), because generally what I've found on the intertubes is a whole bunch of unsubstantiated inexpert opinion. Pure bumkum!.  

The papers I've read more or less reveal that the climate and the lithosphere are coupled. One can effect the other. There's not a huge amount of literature out there, but there's enough that it will still take some time to sift through. 

Pros: Might drive a whooooole lot of web traffic here. 

Cons: What is written will be misconstrued and basically lied about by the contarians. You know like "climatehate" except on a smaller scale. Allegations that we're taking advantage of the situation to push forth an agenda (I guess survival is an agenda). 

Personally I couldn't give a crap about being misrepresented. That's what "they" do. But as long as it sticks rigidly with the science, what's the problem?.

Before I expend too much energy on it; your thoughts?.

2011-03-16 14:02:22Invisible thumbey
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Damn the torpedos, man;  full steam ahead!

2011-03-16 15:14:36go for it
Dana Nuccitelli

I think you'll need to be a little careful, maybe even explicitly state that you're not blaming the Japan earthquake on climate change.  But there's nothing wrong with a discussion of the peer-reviewed literature regarding quakes, volcanoes, and climate change.  I'd be interested to see what you come up with. 

Over on Yahoo Answers, a lot of people asked the question whether climate change and earthquakes are linked.  So it will be a useful post.  I say go for it.

2011-03-16 15:20:08
Chris Colose


Personally, I don't believe it but if you're going to proceed I would make sure you have a few solid pieces of literature and more than just correlations to work with. Good luck.

2011-03-16 15:42:34
Rob Painting

Tsk, tsk, Chris, not a very scientific attitude. Many scientists didn't believe a lot of things before the overwhelming weight of evidence altered their vision. Personally, I would find it incomprehensible that all that mass (& crucially water) could move around the planet and not have an effect. But that's not very scientific either. 

2011-03-16 21:22:24



I don't like the idea: at this point, the connection is just speculative. It's a matter for the experts to sort out; and if they haven't done it yet, it's not our job to do it for them. We cannot add any light to this situation, so it's better if we don't add any heat either.

It is our job to present the science, not to discover it; and certainly not to make it up.

We risk spoiling our "brand".

2011-03-16 21:55:49I agree with Neal
James Wight


I don't think it's a good idea, for much the same reasons.

2011-03-17 07:43:19Extreme events
John Cook

Someone showed me a graph of extreme events once. The # of floods were increasing sharply while earthquakes was relatively flat. That says to me that the extreme events that were affected by global warming had increased as expected while the events that weren't really related to GW hadn't changed much. Not a robust conclusion but I'm skeptical of a GW related link other than in obvious places like Greenland and Iceland.
2011-03-17 08:04:23Good point, John
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Here's another reason to like the idea:  Denialists often accuse SkS of being "alarmist", implying SkS only publishes alarming material (gee, is that because there's SOOO much of it?).  So if Rob does this & finds no credible link (it could also be used to ventilate the "volcanoes under Antarctica" and the "volcanoes at the bottom of the ocean" memes some of the nuttier denialarati come up with) it would serve to disembowel that "only publishes alarmist stuff" crap.

2011-03-17 08:22:30agreed
Dana Nuccitelli

Rob isn't proposing to make stuff up, he's proposing to do a thorough literature search on the subject, maybe find some papers that were largely passed over, and report on his findings.  Like Daniel says, that includes if he finds little link between volcanism/earthquakes/climate change.

By the way John, I believe you're referring to the figure from Peduzzi (2004), which is also on Wikipedia on the extreme weather page:

peduzzi 2004

Anyway, I have the same mindset as John, but I'd like to know what the scientific literature says.

2011-03-17 08:56:08


Unless & until there is a mechanism that makes sense, I am against indulging in promotion of correlations.

2011-03-17 12:55:51
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Rob, dunno if this can help in any way, but it sure is interesting:


Viscous Cycle: Quartz Is Key to Plate Tectonics

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2011) — More than 40 years ago, pioneering tectonic geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson published a paper in the journal Nature describing how ocean basins opened and closed along North America's eastern seaboard.

His observations, dubbed "The Wilson Tectonic Cycle," suggested the process occurred many times during Earth's long history, most recently causing the giant supercontinent Pangaea to split into today's seven continents.

Wilson's ideas were central to the so-called Plate Tectonic Revolution, the foundation of contemporary theories for processes underlying mountain-building and earthquakes.

Since his 1967 paper, additional studies have confirmed that large-scale deformation of continents repeatedly occurs in some regions but not others, though the reasons why remain poorly understood.

Now, new findings by Utah State University geophysicist Tony Lowry and colleague Marta Pérez-Gussinyé of Royal Holloway, University of London, shed surprising light on these restless rock cycles.

"It all begins with quartz," says Lowry, who published results of the team's recent study in the March 17 issue of Nature.

The scientists describe a new approach to measuring properties of the deep crust.

It reveals quartz's key role in initiating the churning chain of events that cause Earth's surface to crack, wrinkle, fold and stretch into mountains, plains and valleys.

"If you've ever traveled westward from the Midwest's Great Plains toward the Rocky Mountains, you may have wondered why the flat plains suddenly rise into steep peaks at a particular spot," Lowry says.

"It turns out that the crust beneath the plains has almost no quartz in it, whereas the Rockies are very quartz-rich."

He thinks that those belts of quartz could be the catalyst that sets the mountain-building rock cycle in motion.

"Earthquakes, mountain-building and other expressions of continental tectonics depend on how rocks flow in response to stress," says Lowry.

"We know that tectonics is a response to the effects of gravity, but we know less about rock flow properties and how they change from one location to another."

Wilson's theories provide an important clue, Lowry says, as scientists have long observed that mountain belts and rift zones have formed again and again at the same locations over long periods of time.

But why?

"Over the last few decades, we've learned that high temperatures, water and abundant quartz are all critical factors in making rocks flow more easily," Lowry says. "Until now, we haven't had the tools to measure these factors and answer long-standing questions."

Since 2002, the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Earthscope Transportable Array of seismic stations across the western United States has provided remote sensing data about the continent's rock properties.

"We've combined Earthscope data with other geophysical measurements of gravity and surface heat flow in an entirely new way, one that allows us to separate the effects of temperature, water and quartz in the crust," Lowry says.

Earthscope measurements enabled the team to estimate the thickness, along with the seismic velocity ratio, of continental crust in the American West.

"This intriguing study provides new insights into the processes driving large-scale continental deformation and dynamics," says Greg Anderson, NSF program director for EarthScope. "These are key to understanding the assembly and evolution of continents."

Seismic velocity describes how quickly sound waves and shear waves travel through rock, offering clues to its temperature and composition.

"Seismic velocities are sensitive to both temperature and rock type," Lowry says.

"But if the velocities are combined as a ratio, the temperature dependence drops out. We found that the velocity ratio was especially sensitive to quartz abundance."

Even after separating out the effects of temperature, the scientists found that a low seismic velocity ratio, indicating weak, quartz-rich crust, systematically occurred in the same place as high lower-crustal temperatures modeled independently from surface heat flow.

"That was a surprise," he says. "We think this indicates a feedback cycle, where quartz starts the ball rolling."

If temperature and water are the same, Lowry says, rock flow will focus where the quartz is located because that's the only weak link.

Once the flow starts, the movement of rock carries heat with it and that efficient movement of heat raises temperature, resulting in weakening of crust.

"Rock, when it warms up, is forced to release water that's otherwise chemically bound in crystals," he says.

Water further weakens the crust, which increasingly focuses the deformation in a specific area.

More information about the EarthScope Project is available at: http://www.earthscope.org/

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

  1. Anthony R. Lowry, Marta Pérez-Gussinyé. The role of crustal quartz in controlling Cordilleran deformation. Nature, 2011; 471 (7338): 353 DOI: 10.1038/nature09912
2011-03-17 14:44:42
Rob Painting

Yooper - Thanks, that is interesting. Another line of inquiry. There's a whole bunch of interesting stuff I'm working my way through too. Mostly in regard to volcanism though. The connection between the climate and lithosphere is much stronger there. 

2011-03-27 01:42:32Yes, earthquakes increase in frequency, but quartz does what?
Dan Friedman

The graph dana posted above shows earthquake frequency jumping up in the early '60s; simple reason - more seismograph stations worldwide due to the IGY (1957-58).  AKA, we needed to know about Russion nuke tests.  But to speculate that GW is related to earthquake frequency is a limb you should not climb on.


This quartz thing seems bass-ackwards to me.  Minerals are emplaced because of tectonic processes, not the other way 'round.  The seismic velocity ratio (presumably Vp/Vs, but more properly Poisson's ratio) was indeed used in the oil industry as a measure of fluid content and Vp/Vs does strange things in areas of high heat flow.  But heat flow comes from tectonics.


There will be a chorus of Landscheidt-types and doom-sayers in response to this.  I'd walk verrry carefully around this one.