'Tiny' climate changes may trigger quakes

A A A

Climate change could spark more "hazardous" geological events such as volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides, scientists warned today.

In papers published by the Royal Society, researchers warned that melting ice, sea level rises and even increasingly heavy storms and rainfall - predicted consequences of rising temperatures - could affect the Earth's crust.

Even small changes in the environment could trigger activity such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

And some evidence suggests the consequences of climate change were already having an impact on geological activity in places such as Alaska, researchers writing in the journal the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A said.

Bill McGuire, of the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre at University College London, and the author of a review in the journal of research in the area, said warming temperatures melted ice from ice sheets and glaciers and increased the amount of water in the oceans.

As the land "rebounds" back up once the weight of the ice has been removed - which could be by as much as a kilometre in places such as Greenland and Antarctica - then if, in the worst case scenario, all the ice were to melt - it could trigger earthquakes.

The increase in seismic activity could, in turn, cause underwater landslides that spark tsunamis.

A potential additional risk is from "ice-quakes" generated when the ice sheets break up, causing tsunamis which could threaten places such as New Zealand, Newfoundland in Canada and Chile.

The reduction in the ice could also stimulate volcanic eruptions, according to the research.

And the greater weight of the water in the oceans where sea level has risen as ice melts can "bend" the Earth's crust. This produces magma and causes volcanic and seismic activity in coastal or island areas - where the majority of 550 volcanoes whose eruptions have been historically documented are found.

Increased volcanic activity could cause more landslides, and have impacts well beyond the area where the volcano is situated - for example by releasing sulphur clouds into the atmosphere or by affecting air travel.

Prof McGuire said the changes could occur in the coming decades or over centuries, rather than thousands of years, depending on factors such as how quickly sea levels rose.

And he warned: "The rise you may need may be much smaller than we expect. Looking ahead at climate change, we may not need massive changes.

"One of the worries is that tiny environmental changes could have these effects."

His review said there was "mounting evidence" of seismic, volcanic and landslide activity being triggered or affected by small changes in the environment - even specific weather events such as typhoons or torrential rain.

Prof McGuire said that in Taiwan the lower air pressure generated by typhoons was enough to "unload" the crust by a small amount and trigger earthquakes.

Other impacts of rising temperatures include glacial lakes bursting out through rock dams and causing flash flooding in mountain regions such as the Himalayas, as well as rock, ice and landslides as permafrost melts.

And he said there may be "tipping points" in the geological systems, where the crust reaches a threshold that causes a step-change in the frequency of such events - but it was not clear where those thresholds might lie.

At times in the past climate change has been seen to have links with enhanced levels of potentially hazardous geological activity - for example after the end of the last ice age.

But they have not been fully considered as potential impacts of the rapid changes in the climate expected in the future and there was a great deal of uncertainty about what might happen in coming years.

Prof McGuire called for a programme of research focusing on the potential geological hazards that global warming could bring, with the leading body on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), addressing the issue directly in its future assessments.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn