While it might only be a tiny one-millisecond variation, changes to the speed of Earth’s rotation might result in an increase in big earthquakes in 2018, scientists have warned. The effect of this phenomenon is expected to be especially pronounced in densely populated countries near the equator.
The above findings were presented last month at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting but were only cited on Saturday in a report from The Guardian. According to researchers Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula, small changes in the Earth’s rotation patterns, such as days that are longer by only one millisecond, could result in intense releases of seismic energy, and consequently an uptick in earthquakes.
In an interview with the Observer last week that was quoted on The Guardian’s report, Bilham said that there is a “[strong] correlation” between our planet’s rotation and its seismic activity that could result in a greater number of major earthquakes in 2018.
Bilham and Bendick came up with their grim forecast by studying all earthquakes of magnitude 7 and above that took place from the 20th century onward. Looking through almost 120 years of information, the researchers isolated five periods when major earthquakes were far more commonplace than they were in other periods.
“In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year,” Bilham explained.
“The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year.”
After correlating those periods of increased earthquake activity with different variables, the researchers concluded that they all had one thing in common — a slowdown in the Earth’s rotation that preceded a significant uptick in intense earthquakes. Bilham and Bendick were able to spot five-year periods where our planet’s rotation had repeatedly slowed by a millisecond a day. These five-year spans all came before periods where the world’s intense earthquake activity had increased, and, according to a report from Quartz, took place every 32 years or so.
“It is straightforward. The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes,” Bilham cautioned.
With this “five-year heads-up” in mind, Bilham and Bendick expect an increase in big earthquakes in 2018 because the Earth’s rotation did begin slowing down over four years ago. Bilham warned that the world has “had it easy” in 2017 with only six “severe” earthquakes, but that might not be the case in the years to come.
“We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018.”
Just last Sunday, hundreds of people were killed and thousands more injured as a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck near the Iran-Iraq border. According to CNN, this was the deadliest earthquake of 2017, coming just two months after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit Mexico and killed over 360 people. In addition to these countries, there are other earthquake-prone parts of the world that have long been preparing for the so-called “big one.” These include California, as recently detailed in a report from the Inquisitr, and the Philippines, where the 60-mile (100 km) West Valley Fault is believed to be “ripe for movement” over 350 years after it had last caused a major earthquake, according to the Philippine Star.
Although the researchers noted that it is hard to predict where the “extra” earthquakes in 2018 will take place, Bilham said that the tiny changes in day length usually resulted in more intense earthquakes in tropical countries near the equator, which are home to about a billion people.
[Featured Image by Vahid Salemi/AP Images]