The world is entering a period of higher seismic activity this year that will bring more earthquakes with it, scientists have predicted.
While that’s undoubtedly bad news for those living within affected areas, the ability to accurately predict when and where earthquakes will occur is growing all the time.
This prediction comes from the fact that the Earth is currently experiencing a periodic slowdown of its rotation.
Historically, these slowdowns have coincided with peak times for earthquakes and seismic activity.
“So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes [in 2017]. We could easily have 20-a-year starting in 2018,” said Dr Roger Bilham from the University of Colorado.
The world doesn’t stop spinning. But every so often, it slows down. For decades, scientists have charted tiny fluctuations in the length of Earth’s day: Gain a millisecond here, lose a millisecond there.
At the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, two geophysicists argued that these minute changes could be enough to influence the timing of major earthquakes—and potentially help forecast them.
During the past 100 years, Earth’s slowdowns have correlated surprisingly well with periods with a global increase in magnitude-7 and larger earthquakes, according to Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick at the University of Montana in Missoula.
Usefully, the spike, which adds two to five more quakes than typical, happens well after the slow-down begins. “The Earth offers us a 5-years heads up on future earthquakes, which is remarkable,” says Bilham, who presented the work.
“It is straightforward,” said Bilham. “The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes.”
These fluctuations are usually very small, sometimes slowing a day by no more than a millisecond. But according to their research it has an effect. How and why is not yet known but it’s supposed that it could have something to do with behavioural changes in the the Earth’s core.
Although it’s impossible to predict where the earthquakes will happen, the pair’s research showed that historically they occur around the equator in the Earth’s tropical regions.
Some geologists have disagreed with the findings.
“It appears to be a conference presentation and very preliminary rather than peer reviewed research, so there is no detail for us to examine,” said GNS Science communications manager John Callan.
“It is true there have been periods of elevated rates of large earthquakes in the past 100 years. However, if you go looking for correlations with other natural phenomenon, you will almost certainly find some interesting matches.”
Among the major earthquakes last year were a 7.1 magnitude disaster which hit Mexico City in September and 7.3 on the border between Iran and Iraq on November 12.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
Januar 2nd, 2018
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