Global Heating Causes Earthquakes

We uploaded a blog post and composed an Earth Minute putting forward the notion that earthquakes and tsunamis are linked to climate chaos.  Here is a post by climate activist Ted Glick delving into the topic more deeply.  I hope it answers some of the questions that people have brought to us since we posted it.

–The GJEP Team


Cross-posted from Grist

By Ted Glick

Number of earthquakes worldwide in 1990: 16,590—-number in 2008: 31,777

-U.S. Geological Society National Earthquake Information

I have to say that when I first started hearing about this possible connection a couple of years ago, I was kind of a skeptic. Part of me reacted, “Hey, we’re already contending with head-in-the-sand people—like the vast majority of national Republican elected officials—who deny that global heating is even happening. Now we’re supposed to carry the argument that it’s causing not just more and more destructive storms, hurricanes, rains, floods, droughts, sea level rise, desertification and agricultural failures but earthquakes and tsunamis?”

But I’ve come to believe that it’s true, and after the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami I took some time to research it more carefully.

The first thing I found was a chart of the US Geological Society (USGS) which gave year by year information for earthquakes between 1990 and 2010. I was immediately struck by the statistic above, that the total number of earthquakes in those 20 years has almost doubled.

Indeed, it may have done so, but in 2008, for some reason, the USGS stopped collecting information on earthquakes below magnitude 4.5 outside of the United States.

If one calculates the number of earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 and higher between 1990 and 2010, there’s almost a 24% increase. And reporter William Marsden, writing on March 15th, 2011 in the Montreal Gazette, reports that, according to USGS data, there were 1,085 major earthquakes in the 1980s, 1,492 in the 1990s, 1,611 from 2000 to 2009, and 247 in 2010 and 2011 up to the recent Japanese earthquake.

Over those 20 years, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from about 350 parts per millions (ppm) to today’s about 390. This is a dramatic rate of increase given that for many hundreds of thousands of years, based on ice core and other data, the level of ppm in the atmosphere was about 280.

All of this information seems to be solid evidence for a position being put forward by a number of geologists, that global heating is related to earthquakes and other geological changes under the earth.

On the website, Patrick Wu, a geologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, is quoted from an interview with the Canadian Press: “What happens is the weight of this thick ice puts a lot of stress on the earth. The weight sort of suppressed the earthquakes, but when you melt the ice the earthquakes get triggered.”

Another geologist, Bill McGuire of University College in London, is quoted as saying, “All over the world evidence is stacking up that changes in global climate can and do affect the frequencies of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and catastrophic sea-floor landslides. Not only has this happened several times through Earth’s history, the evidence suggests it is happening again.”

It’s going to be very rough time for lots and lots of us worldwide in the coming years and decades, but if we do our work well, if we stand up together against the climate deniers and their fossil fuel industry enablers, humanity still has a fighting chance of emerging on the other side with a very different world.

And life is better when you give of yourself for a cause that is right and just, no matter how heavy the odds.

Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and is a co-founder of the Climate Crisis Coalition, but these views are solely his own. Past writings and other information can be found at

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0 Responses to Global Heating Causes Earthquakes

  1. Hi Kelly,

    It is my understanding that earthquakes are linked to climate change because of the changes in pressure on the Earth’s crust–both from melting glaciers and from rising sea levels–both of which are dramatically changing the weight on different parts of the Earth’s crust, hence leading to instability and shifting below. I will see about finding links to more documentation. Meanwhile, if you find some, feel free to share it here.

    Anne for the GJEP Team

  2. Kelly Arbor

    I can’t imagine what the climate mechanism would be that would trigger an increase in earthquakes everywhere. I never understood earthquakes to be caused by changes in the pressure on the outside of the earth, but by changes within the crust caused by the shifts occurring in the mantle.

    I wish you had included links to the two geologists, to see the context and support for their remarks. A 24% variation in the amount of large earthquakes over a twenty year period would need to be compared to variations over a much longer period of time to see whether it is a significant increase or a natural fluctuation.

    I believe carbon dioxide and methane have wreaked havoc on our atmosphere, and are responsible for amlot of devastating changes in climate. However, to impute variation in the number of earthquakes, which originate below the 5-mile-thick earth crust, to climate change which occurs above the earth’s surface, seems rather far-fetched. Without positing a mechanism, or quoting or referring to any supporting evidence for this hypothesis, I think there’s much reason to remain skeptical.

    Again, I welcome any information you can share that would convince me there might be a connection. Just quoting the opinion of two scientists (whose reputation is unknown to me) is not convincing. Upon what do they base their opinions?