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Can Solar Activity Cause Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Extreme Weather?

Washington’s Blog
Aug 26, 2011

Some Scientists Believe Solar Activity Can Cause Earthquakes, Volcanoes or Extreme Weather

A 1967 study published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters found:

Solar activity, as indicated by sunspots, radio noise and geomagnetic indices, plays a significant but by no means exclusive role in the triggering of earthquakes. Maximum quake frequency occurs at times of moderately high and fluctuating solar activity. Terrestrial solar flare effects which are the actual coupling mechanisms which trigger quakes appear to be either abrupt accelerations in the earth’s angular velocity or surges of telluric currents in the earth’s crust. The graphs presented in this paper permit probabilistic forecasting of earthquakes, and when used in conjunction with local indicators may provide a significant tool for specific earthquake prediction.

A 1998 report by a scientist from the Beijing Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences, also found a correlation between low solar activity and earthquakes:

It has been found that:

(1) Earthquakes occur frequently around the minimum years of solar activity. Generally, the earthquake activities are relatively less during the peak value years of solar activity, some say, around the period when magnetic polarity in the solar polar regions is reversed.

(2) The earthquake frequency in the minimum period of solar activity is closely related to the maximum annual means of sunspot numbers, the maximum annual means of solar 10.7 cm radio flux and solar proton events of a whole solar cycle, and the relation between earthquake and solar proton events is closer than others.

Mitch Battros theorized in 1998 that large solar flares affect Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn shifts the oceanic and atmospheric currents, which can cause earthquakes and extreme weather. As Battros summarizes his formula:

Sunspots => Solar Flares (charged particles) => Magnetic Field Shift => Shifting Ocean and Jet Stream Currents => Extreme Weather [including earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes or other extreme natural events]

Battros’ theories have been endorsed to one degree or another by:

  • Dr. Ernest Hildner, Director NOAA Space Weather Center
  • Dr. Tom Van Flandern, former US Naval Observatory Chief of Celestial Mechanics
  • Dr. Stefaan Poedts: Lead Scientist University of Leuven Center for Plasma Astrophysics
  • Dr. Ronald van der Linden, Director of Solar Physics Department of the Royal Observatory
  • Dr. Pål Brekke, Deputy Director of SOHO project- European Space Agency

The BBC pointed out in 2008:

Nasa scientists have said they could be on the verge of a breakthrough in their efforts to forecast earthquakes.

Researchers say they have found a close link between electrical disturbances on the edge of our atmosphere and impending quakes on the ground below.

Just such a signal was spotted in the days leading up to the recent devastating event in China.

They have teamed up with experts in the UK to investigate a possible space-based early warning system.

Many in the scientific community remain deeply sceptical about whether such signals are indeed indicators of an approaching earthquake.

But Minoru Freund, a physicist and director for advanced aerospace materials and devices at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California, told BBC News: “I do believe that we will be able to establish a clear correlation between certain earthquakes and certain pre-earthquake signals, in an unbiased way.”

***
The ionosphere is distinguished from other layers of Earth’s atmosphere because it is electrically charged through exposure to solar radiation.

On a significant number of occasions, satellites have picked up disturbances in this part of the atmosphere 100-600km above areas that have later been hit by earthquakes.

One of the most important of these is a fluctuation in the density of electrons and other electrically-charged particles in the ionosphere.

One study looked at over 100 earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.0 or larger in Taiwan over several decades. The researchers found that almost all of the earthquakes down to a depth of about 35km were preceded by distinct electrical disturbances in the ionosphere.

The analysis was carried out by Jann-Yeng Liu, from the Center for Space and Remote Sensing Research in Chung-Li, Taiwan.

Though full details have yet to be released, the BBC understands that scientists also observed a “huge” signal in the ionosphere before the Magnitude 7.8 earthquake in China on 12 May.

***
Minoru and his father Friedemann Freund, also from Nasa Ames Research Center, developed the scientific theory behind these earthquake precursors. It boils down to the idea that when rocks are compressed – as when tectonic plates shift – they act like batteries, producing electric currents.

“We now pretty much understand the solid-state physics of these rocks,” Minoru added.

According to their theory, the charge carrier is a “positive hole”, known as a phole, which can travel large distances in laboratory experiments.

When they travel to the surface of the Earth, the surface becomes positively charged. And this charge can be strong enough to affect the ionosphere, causing the disturbances documented by satellites.

When these pholes “recombine” at the surface of the Earth, they enter an excited state. They subsequently “de-excite” and emit mid-infrared light particles, or photons. This may explain the IR observations.

NASA assumes that compressed rocks release electrical charges which travel upwards into the ionosphere. But no one has tested whether or not the reverse is happening: solar fluctuations are charging the ionosphere, causing earthquakes.

NASA also discovered last year that “space weather” causes “spacequakes” on Earth:

Researchers using NASA’s fleet of five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a form of space weather that packs the punch of an earthquake and plays a key role in sparking bright Northern Lights. They call it “the spacequake.”
A spacequake is a temblor in Earth’s magnetic field. It is felt most strongly in Earth orbit, but is not exclusive to space. The effects can reach all the way down to the surface of Earth itself.

“Magnetic reverberations have been detected at ground stations all around the globe, much like seismic detectors measure a large earthquake,” says THEMIS principal investigator Vassilis Angelopoulos of UCLA.

It’s an apt analogy because “the total energy in a spacequake can rival that of a magnitude 5 or 6 earthquake,” according to Evgeny Panov of the Space Research Institute in Austria.

***

“Now we know,” says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. “Plasma jets trigger spacequakes.”

According to THEMIS, the jets crash into the geomagnetic field some 30,000 km above Earth’s equator. The impact sets off a rebounding process, in which the incoming plasma actually bounces up and down on the reverberating magnetic field. Researchers call it “repetitive flow rebuffing.” It’s akin to a tennis ball bouncing up and down on a carpeted floor. The first bounce is a big one, followed by bounces of decreasing amplitude as energy is dissipated in the carpet.

***
“When plasma jets hit the inner magnetosphere, vortices with opposite sense of rotation appear and reappear on either side of the plasma jet,” explains Rumi Nakamura of the Space Research Institute in Austria, a co-author of the study. “We believe the vortices can generate substantial electrical currents in the near-Earth environment.”

Acting together, vortices and spacequakes could have a noticeable effect on Earth. The tails of vortices may funnel particles into Earth’s atmosphere, sparking auroras and making waves of ionization that disturb radio communications and GPS. By tugging on surface magnetic fields, spacequakes generate currents in the very ground we walk on. Ground current surges can have profound consequences, in extreme cases bringing down power grids over a wide area.

What does this mean?

Some allege that spacequakes cause actual, physical earthquakes on Earth. The above-quoted NASA article concludes with a poem which implies such a connection:

Vortices swirl
plasma a’twirl
Richter predicts
a magnitude six

 

However, the poem may use artistic license rather than scientific rigor.

BBC weather presenter and climate correspondent Paul Hudson noted in March:

Last year a preliminary study was published from the Space and Science research centre in Florida. [Here is the study]

A review of historical records was performed for 350 years of global volcanic activity (1650-2009) and seismic (earthquake) activity for the past 300 years (1700 to 2009) within the continental United States and then compared to the Sun’s record of sunspots as a measure of solar activity.

According to this study, there exists a strong correlation between solar activity and the Earth’s largest seismic and volcanic events.

They found an impressive degree of correlation for global volcanic activity (>80.6%) and for the largest USA earthquakes (100% of the top 7 most powerful) versus solar activity lows.

***

Piers Corbyn, at Weather action, added last month following the New Zealand earthquake that within such long quieter solar periods like we have been through, the biggest earthquake & volcano events are triggered by extra solar activity, particularly during the the rising phase of even solar cycles.

This is precisely where we are now as Solar cycle 24 gains in strength….

According to Mr Corbyn, ‘The (New Zealand) event follows the world wide increase in volcanism and earthquakes in the last year or two and confirms the general statistical fact that more – and more serious – earthquakes, and volcanic activity, tend to occur around solar cycle minima’.

He reckons there will be more strong earthquakes like the ones we have recently witnessed in the next 2 years.

This is another one of those frustrating areas of science. There does seem to be empirical evidence to show a link between periods of low solar activity, and increased occurrences of earthquakes, but quite why this is so is not fully understood.

RT claimed in July:

The change in the Earth’s seismic activity coincides with the rise of activity on the sun. Scientists have been witnessing gigantic bursts of plasma on its surface and say they are affecting our planet, even though it is over 90 million miles away.

Each burst sends billions of particles into space which impacts the Earth’s magnetic field. This may trigger some of the processes going on deep bellow its surface, leading to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Scientists predict solar activity will increase and say in the next few years, large-scale disruptions of electronic equipment, radio transmissions, computer failures and massive black-outs could become parts of everyday life.

Postscript: United States Secretary of Defense William Cohen said to a conference on terrorism on April 28, 1997 that people can:

Alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves.

If Secretary Cohen is correct that electromagnetic waves can alter climate, set off earthquakes and cause volcanoes, then that could bolster the argument that the sun could do so as well, since it is a very large source of electromagnetic waves.

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