Virginia Earthquake Spreads to New England–Global Warming Connection?

August 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Earlier this week, I missed out on a rare and rather cool event. In my small town in Western Massachusetts, residents felt the movements of an earthquake that originated in Mineral, Virginia and spread as far as Boston. While both my parents and many of my friends felt the quake, I was totally unaware. Funnily enough, when I heard about it, I actually regretted not having experienced it.

When my sister called to tell me the news, my first reaction was — here’s even more proof of global warming. I realized, after thinking it, that I was probably a little too eager to attribute these events to anthropological guilt. Perhaps what I was rather trying to express was my belief that events like these could remind us of the opponent we are dealing with in the race against climate change. The earth and its natural forces are ultimately much larger than we can ever be, and I think experiencing something so powerful and purely natural would have been eye-opening.

Nonetheless, I actually looked into whether there was any link between earthquakes and climate change, and it turns out there can be a connection between the two. In an article by National Geographic, a team of scientists led a study examining the effects of ice sheets on the earth’s tectonic plates. It is these plates, when they collide or rub against each other, that cause earthquakes. According to this study, scientists found that ice sheets actually affect the amount of earthquakes in a region. When there is a lot of ice in an area, the weight of it holds the tectonic plates in place, preventing them from moving and causing friction. But as ice melts (and please don’t deny that ice is melting), we see that the weight is lifted from the plates, allowing them to move more and shift. This information was found using sophisticated computer technology, however historical evidence is what prompted the studies in the first place–in Utah at the end of the last ice age, the retreat of a large glacial lake coincided with several earthquakes in the region. Similar evidence in Scandinavia during the last ice age bolsters this claim and has led to the conclusion that melting of ice, even in inactive zones, can cause earthquakes.

This evidence is not to say that all earthquakes are prompted by global warming, and I don’t think that the Virginian quake was caused by the melting of an ice sheet in the area (duh). However I think it’s interesting to be aware that global warming can even affect something considered as untouchable as the tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust.

Speaking of severe weather in Western Massachusetts–residents are currently gearing up for the approaching Hurricane Irene, which is due to pass by us starting tomorrow and last through Sunday or Monday (depending on varying weather reports–they’re always in conflict!). Although we aren’t expected to get the brunt of the storm (poor North Carolina), people here are certainly stocking up for a weather event more extreme than we’re accustomed to. This, we can say, is perhaps further proof that global warming is happening–there are good chances that Irene’s intensity was amplified by global warming, or perhaps it’s just another tropical storm. However the increased occurrence of severe weather events does seem to signal something…(let me add: earlier this spring a tornado came by our area as well, hitting Springfield, MA pretty badly).


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