Scientists are divided over the effect of climate change on earthquakes and accompanying tsunamis.
During a three-day conference in London the topic of geological hazards related to disruption in global climate patterns was widely discussed by volcanologists, seismologists, glaciologists and landslide experts from around the world. While European research seems to indicate an increased occurrence of earthquakes as a result from increased global temperatures, New Zealand scientists are somewhat skeptical to the idea.
Professor Bill McGuire, of University College London, who organized the conference explained: “Climate change doesn’t just affect the atmosphere and the oceans but the Earth’s crust as well. The whole Earth is an interactive system,”. The theory is that as ice sheets are melting from a warmer climate, the Earth’s crust bounces up and sparks both earthquakes and tsunamis.
Principal scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Reasearch (NIWA), James Renwick is of the same opinion and called the theory “reasonable”. His reasoning is based on the fact that major ice sheets do put a significant weight on the Earth’s crust. He continued by explaining that processes of geological response happen very slowly, and as such “I wouldn’t see it as terrifically relevant day-by-day or year-by-year to what’s happening here right now.”
Martha Savage, a Victoria University of Wellington seismology expert, stated that she had only seen one published paper dealing with the link between climate change and earthquakes. She however agreed that it is possible that global warming could cause a increase, although very small, in the incidence of earthquakes: “I think it’s really tiny – it [global warming] has a much stronger effect on creating more tornadoes and hurricanes than creating more earthquakes.”