Scientists Predict More Earthquakes In 2018 As Earth Slows

Cesar Mills
November 21, 2017

In the new study - which was presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, in Seattle, and published in Geophysical Research Letters - geologists Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana, tracked the incidence of magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes worldwide since 1900. Significantly, there were a much larger amount of 7.0 earthquakes in the years where the Earth's rotation had slowed.

Though it is challenging for humans to notice changes in the speed of the Earth's rotation - in fact, it is so minimal that they can only be perceived by special clocks - these variations can affect the life on the planet. He said, "the inference is clear", and that next year "we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes".

This might not seem like much, and it is virtually unperceivable by us humans, but put in perspective, we find that today's days are longer than days in the year 1900 by nearly two full seconds. The planet normally suffers through an average of 15 major earthquakes annually.

The scientists can't explain for sure how the slower rotations led to more severe earthquakes yet. "So far nobody's figured out why we're wrong, in my mind that's tantamount to saying, "so far, so right", Bendick said.

University of Canterbury tectonic geology lecturer Dr Tim Stahl said Bilham and Bendick were respected scientists in quake geology and seismic risk.

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While there have been advancements in natural disaster prediction technology, including the discovery of fiber optic cables as possible detectors and gravity signals as possible indicators, there is still no surefire method of knowing when earthquakes will happen. Mexico, Iraq and Iran were all rocked by devastating earthquakes in recent months but they may pale in comparison to what we can expect next year.

The time the Earth takes to make a complete rotation on its axis varies by about a millionth of a second per day.

Bilham said, "We have had it easy this year". Specifically, they think changes in the flow of molten iron within Earth's outer core may be impacting both the planet's rotation speed and the frequency of seismic activity. The last slowdown began four years ago.

"They concentrate the shrinkage into the seismic zones where the earthquakes occur".

Though Bilham and Bendick don't know for sure, they believe that every so often the Earth's mantle might stick a little more to the crust.

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