The Big Change – Global Warming and the Link to Geological Changes

by Mary-Anne Moore on 03/11/11
Originally Published March 11 2011
Trend Context

We have seen several large earthquakes recently. New Zealand has had several in the past few months, most recently a 6.3 on Feb. 22nd, Japan had a 6.3 earthquake at Honshu on March 9th and 5.6 March 12th, and the day Japan had one of it’s largest earthquakes now rated as a 9.0, on March 11th, a volcano in Indonesia, Mount Karangentang erupts, and another spews molten rocks. Tonga was also hit by a 6.1 earthquake on March 12th in the afternoon. A huge tsunamis devastates Japan and the surrounding islands, and even killed on the California coastline. It has been busy for mother nature, and the impact on mankind was noticeable. Even Twitter and Glenn Beck were jousting on opposite viewpoints of the linkage with global warming. There have been a range of scientific reports examining the link between global warming and geological changes such as an increase in earthquakes and volcanic activity. Various links have been examined from melting glaciers and increases in volcanic activity. Professor David Pyle of Oxford Universities earth sciences department states:

“The last ice age came to an end between 12,000-15,000 years ago and the ice sheets that once covered central Europe shrank dramatically. The impact on the continents’ geology can be measured by the jump in volcanic activity that occurred at this time.”

‘Glacial earthquakes’ can cause tsunamis of a larger magnitude than regular earthquakes, according to NASA scientist Tony Song, who has developed one of the accurate models of predicting where tsunamis may go using G.P.S. Warnings were issued throughout the Asia-Pacific coastlines following the Japanese earthquake.The Tsunami appears to have gone as far north as Oregon on the western coast of North America.

One of the best overviews of the process linking geological activity and climate change is the following given by blogger James Hrynyshyn.

“The earth has seen this pattern many times before. In the past 650,000 years alone, the polar ice caps have expanded far beyond their current limits on seven occasions, locking up huge volumes of water in frozen oceans and vast continental ice sheets before retreating again to higher latitudes. These huge change in distribution of the earth’s water resulted in dramatic and repeated swings in sea level, with falls as far as 130 metres below today’s level followed by equally spectacular rises. They also led to shifting loads on volcanoes and geological faults. As ice sheets that had pinned down volcanoes and active faults melted away, the earth’s crust bounced back in a process  known as isostatic rebound. As it did so, faultlines reactivated and seismic activity increased sharply.”

Other theories have examined the role in rotational abnormalities resulting from changes in glacier locations, shifts in geomagnetic fields, and even solar activity. Whatever the causation, if this increase in geological activity continues, this will likely be the most disruptive effect of climate change. There is however no conclusive means to accurately graph these activities as being greater than an aberration, in the normal cycling of events, until it will be rather late in the game for humankind to react to this possibility. There are thoughts on the role of the moon’s gravitational field also playing a possible triggering role, as the moon’s elliptical orbit will be at it’s closest in almost 20 years, and peaks around March 19th, along with other planetary alignments in the mix. However, even if we could graph the evidence, many would react in a typical denial reaction, so both sides could argue – “What would be the point?’

After the 2004 Sumatra 9.0 Earthquake &Tsunami, the 2010 Haiti 7.0 Quake, now 2011 Japan 9.0…

Japan had one of it’s largest earthquakes now rated as a 9.0, on March 11th, with an accompanying Tsunami. The death toll could range in the tens of thousands. Currently, the biggest risk in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, is a possible nuclear reactor breach at the Fukushima Power Plant which was one of the first nuclear power plants built and which had reactors scheduled for decommissioning.  The possibility of further major aftershocks is high. Currently the containment of the nuclear cores is considered intact, according to the Japanese government, but the cooling systems are not working, and  hydrogen has exploded  during a venting process, done, to reduce a build up of explosive pressure. Cooling and slowing the reactive process is being attempted using boric acid and water. What role further quakes could play in breach of the containment, or further problems with cooling systems, and the need for further venting of radioactive steam, is still unclear. The government has ordered evacuations around the affected plant, and extended the zone out to 20 kms. Others are talking about providing the population with stable potassium iodide, to minimize radioactive iodine being taken in by an exposed person’s thyroid. Other countries and the IAEA are scrambling to provide assistance with this nuclear plant’s emergency situation. Other countries are suddenly worried about the problems they could face with nuclear power, if a similar event struck their location. Relief efforts in Japan are hampered by the cumulative destructive effects of the earthquake and tsunami combined. The airport runways are damaged and covered with mud. American Naval vessels are being sent by the U.S. to provide assistance and logistical support.

‘Trying to Predict the Big One’

There are satellites – The TwinSat Program, being launched in the future that will be able to detect changes that can occur in the atmosphere just prior to an earthquake happening, when subtle electromagnetic signals are released, and can be read in the upper atmosphere. Signals such as these were apparently noticed prior to the earthquake in Haiti. Other methods such as those developed by Russian Professor Alexey A. Lyubushin that examined Microseisms data from 83 broadband seismic stations, have concluded that there was a synchronization in the field of microseismic noise on the Japanese Islands, and concluded that a large quake was due, and could be predicted by 2008 from the data. Others such as the Santa Fe Institute are hoping to launch satellites that could give the use of a method called `Synthetic Aperture Radar Inteference`to help us forecast such a natural disaster. The earthquake in Japan had given us only 80 seconds of response time from our current methods of prediction and monitoring. Hopefully we can develop systems that are capable giving us more advance notice, in times like these.

Update March 15th

There have been more explosion through the night. Radiation fears have led to the Japanese P.M. to request on T.V. for the population within 30 kms to stay indoors, and there is a no fly zone overhead. Some of the American Navy and Aircraft are testing positive for low levels of radiation and the fleet is repositioning itself, from it’s current North East location. How much further radiation will be leaked is indeterminate, the crisis is not over as yet, and will be complicated by staff choosing between fleeing the area, or if they stay, facing a likely death.

Both local and international stock markets have responded, and pulled back in the wake of the size of the catastrophe. The Japanese Central bank has released funds to prop up the banking system. People in the affected areas are experiencing shock, food and gas shortages, and exposure to the elements. Their local infrastructure is gone, and other are fearful of working in areas with higher level of radiation, which will hamper rescue efforts. There are a few staff who have agreed to stay near the nuclear power plant to help with the crisis, and likely these individuals will pay dearly for their valiant efforts, as they will be continually exposed to high levels of radiation. International assistance on a large scale will be required, with possible evacuation and relocation to other countries, of the homeless who have no where to go, and often have no family left.

Helicopters are being used to try to bring in more water to cool the reactor cores, in a scene almost reminiscent of the helicopters used to place the concrete tomb over the Chernobyl accident, so many years ago, and in fact it would seem this may be the end result at the Japanese reactor. The Chernobyl incident is still remembered by German’s who had 44% of their land contaminated in some way, and they are currently demanding the shut down of some their reactors in a knee-jerk psychological response, as they are unlikely to be severely affected by the current events. It is likely that further cores will be melted down, either partially or completely. Containment of the core had a poor design, that emphasized an easier build, and a reduced cost. Since the 70’s there have been issues with the strength of the containment, and venting issues related to the boiling water reactor coolant design, but as there had been no failures in the field, they remained in place. Some were retrofitted, and others were not, but the overall design problem remained in some 32 reactors, 23 of them being located in the USA. There are those that are watching the overall global earthquake and volcanic picture which makes for an interesting viewing. Former USGS Geologist Jim Berkland has his predictions. (March 15 2011), as well. (Please note that the Youtube video represents his personal thoughts and is not backed by formal scientific analysis.)

Global Impacts have included a set back in the larger global stock markets, as investors weigh the effects on economic activity, volatility in the value of the yen which has required a coordinated reaction to stabilize, to smaller local effects such as the cut backs in automotive manufacturing due to a lack of part production in Japan. Other countries continue to have their nuclear energy programs under review and debate, and this has in turn affected uranium markets, and associated industries.

Update March 24th

There has been a larger 6.8 earthquake in Myanmar (Burma)which was followed by a 5.4 quake shortly after. Japan continues to be rocked by numerous aftershocks often in the 4-5 range, and heavily concentrated in the Honshu region. Workers from the Nuclear plant who were attempting to bring power to the troubled reactors, have been exposed to high levels of radiation, some required immediate hospitalization. Contradictory pronouncements about the safety of drinking water in Japan have made the populace vary of government statements.

Alternatives to Uranium Based Nuclear Reactors

After the Japan incident the safety question of uranium reactors has been brought into question by several countries.

The alternative often talked about have been wind farms,or solar arrays, however the demands of a rising population would not be met by these actions alone. Nuclear has been long been reframed as the ‘green’ solution when compared to coal burning plants, or the use of oil as energy. The recent events in Japan have however broken this illusion. Nuclear reactors involve a radioactive process, that in a particular set of circumstances can cause  serious problems, and there is the issue of where and how to safely store spent fuel rods. All this has been reactivating past discussions about thorium based designs for reactors, which are safer. China is betting that this method is the only logistically sound way we can achieve our energy demands currently and for the future. We can develop ‘greener’ alternatives to assist energy production such as solar and wind, work on conservation, and hope new technologies such as electric cars, more mass transit, and even fusion may reduce our use of costly and environmentally destructive energy sources, but without nuclear, we will truly be ‘in the dark’. Considering the probability of natural disasters being increased with climate change and global warming, we need to rethink our current energy production with an eye on personal and environmental safety, practicality, and the long run costs.

‘The Big Shake Update’ March 29 2011

There have been about 400 aftershocks in the Honshu region since the 9.0 earthquake this March. A monumental number of them have been 4+. Most recently, two 6.1 earthquakes have occurred a day apart. Honshu lies above a region categorized as a double seismic area, meaning that it is affected by two overlapping, seismic zones. There are areas that are double seismic zones in Alaska, Japan and Indonesia. These areas are also accompanied by ‘folding trenches’, volcanic activity nearby, and tectonic plate interfaces. Japan in particular, lies at the interface of three tectonic plates. The region near Japan and Indonesia have had spectacular ‘megathrust earthquakes’ (9.0 or more) in the space of of several years. Chile also had an 8.8 megathrust quake in February last year. These sequences of megathrust earthquakes are thought to be rather rare events in the history of earthquakes, although much of the history of earthquakes past the last two hundred years has been an extrapolation from coral reefs and other such sources of historical data. It has long been known that rising sea levels can affect geological events. The Alaskan ‘Pavlof Volcano’ has seasonal eruptions, that correspond to higher sea water levels in the winter. Research has shown that when the rate of rise in water is higher in the Mediterranean Sea, there was up to a 300% increase in nearby volcanic activity. The question to ask is, will rising ocean levels from Arctic ice melting cause more than a usual shifting in plate tectonics, particularly in the Pacific plate, which holds the deepest parts of the ocean in regions such as the Marianas Trench? Will all areas associated be affected? Will it cause more volcanic activity in a region already known as the Ring of Fire? Will a country like Japan, be hit the hardest from these possible changes?

March 31 Global Impacts Continue

Global impacts continue to reverberate throughout the world, from Honda Canada moving to a half schedule of production across the board due to a shortage of auto parts, to California looking at not renewing licenses for nuclear plants until earthquake studies are done, to some food hoarding being done at the consumer level in everything from salt in China, to stopped imports of food from Japan, and questions of radiation contamination on fish stocks. The Japanese stock market is swinging in response to news about their nuclear contamination issues. Their economy will be reeling for some time, as the crisis still continues to unfold, on a country burdened by debt issues and an aging population, whose main driver of the economy – the auto sector, was hit hard by the damage of the earthquake and tsunami double punch.

Quake Update April 7 2011

Honshu Japan continues to be hit by aftershocks, including a 7.1 this afternoon occurring just over 1 minute after a 6.5 quake in Veracruz Mexico. Indonesia continues to experience several smaller quakes, including a 6.0 on April 5th.The stock market reacted negatively to the news of the new earthquake in Japan. Additional nuclear reactors went offline for now, further stressing an already stressed power generation situation.

June Update

Earthquakes continue to rock New Zealand and Japan, as additional evacuations were required in both regions.Homes can be made to withstand earthquakes even in developing regions. Volcanic activity has happened in Chile, Italy and Indonesia recently.

Summer Update:

It almost appeared as if mother nature was sending politicians in Washington a message as the ground shook enough on August 23rd to cause the evacuation of the Pentagon and White House, and review of structures such as the Washington monument. The day before, Colorado had it’s largest earthquake in 40 years. Continued earthquakes are seen in the Japan region.