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All Shook Up

Image Credit : A Sound of Thunder Movie

Students of Chaos Theory well know what is known as the Butterfly Effect – apparently small changes in system forcings result in major outcomes.

We’ve heard repeatedly about rising sea levels resulting from Global Warming, but there are more bugs crawling out of the woodwork now.

The Earth’s crust is flexible – in places it is still rebounding from the weight of ice during the last Ice Age. Tectonic plates have edges, faults, shallow areas – all prone to changes in the mass of water above/around.

“Climate change may trigger earthquakes and volcanoes : 23 September 2009 by Richard Fisher : Magazine issue 2727 : FAR from being the benign figure of mythology, Mother Earth is short-tempered and volatile. So sensitive in fact, that even slight changes in weather and climate can rip the planet’s crust apart, unleashing the furious might of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides. That’s the conclusion of the researchers who got together last week in London at the conference on Climate Forcing of Geological and Geomorphological Hazards. It suggests climate change could tip the planet’s delicate balance and unleash a host of geological disasters. What’s more, even our attempts to stall global warming could trigger a catastrophic event. Evidence of a link between climate and the rumblings of the crust has been around for years, but only now is it becoming clear just how sensitive rock can be to the air, ice and water above. “You don’t need huge changes to trigger responses from the crust,” says Bill McGuire of University College London (UCL), who organised the meeting. “The changes can be tiny.”…”

“Bury the carbon and set off a quake : It all looked so promising – tidy carbon dioxide away underground and forget about it. But even as the US’s first large-scale sequestration operation is getting off the ground at the Mountaineer plant in West Virginia, geophysicists are concerned that burying the carbon could trigger earthquakes and tsunamis. In a carbon sequestration power plant (CCS), CO2 is extracted from the exhaust then pumped into aquifers and old gas fields several kilometres beneath the Earth’s surface. So far so good. But the CO2 expands as it rises through the porous rock, increasing pressure inside. “If enough CO2 is injected into an aquifer, it could increase the pressure enough to reactivate a fault and trigger an earthquake,” warns Andrew Chadwick of the British Geological Survey. Chemical reactions between the injected CO2, water and rock could also destabilise the rock, says Ernest Majer, a seismologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California who briefed the Senate on CCS hazards this week. “It’s such a new technology that none of these issues have been addressed,” says Majer. Even storage sites far from human settlements could have disastrous effects, warns Christian Klose, a geophysicist at the Think Geohazards consulting firm in California. A CCS facility at the Sleipner gas field in the North Sea, may have triggered a magnitude 4 earthquake in 2008. Had it been bigger, says Klose, it might have triggered a tsunami. [Shanta Barley]”

“Earth Vibrations : Peter D. Bromirski : Intense cyclonic storm systems generate strong ocean-surface winds that transfer atmospheric energy into ocean gravity waves. Some of the ocean wave energy couples to the solid earth, causing what seismologists have long considered as ambient “noise,” because it interferes with the study of earthquake signals measured by seismometers. However, rising ambient noise levels imply increasing oceanic storminess (1), which is linked to climate change. In this context, the roles are reversed, with earthquakes being the noise that needs to be excluded from the climate-related signals. Studies of long-term seismic records suggest that wave-generated ambient noise is increasing globally (2). [Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093–0209.]

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