Quick Start to 2011’s Strong Earthquakes

With five mag 7+ earthquakes in less than a month, here’s another look at correlations between an active Sun and seismicity here on Earth:

The current auroral oval is bright and lopsided.  Image from Spaceweather.

Large earthquakes of magnitude 7 and above have been increasing dramatically since the Haiti quake of 12 January 2010, with three occurring in just the first couple of weeks of 2011.  While I don’t believe these large quakes will continue at the current rate, early indications suggest we could be on target to see record numbers as the year progresses.

(Update 18 January 2011:  Today’s quake in Pakistan, which again just precedes the incoming solar wind due to arrive on the 19th or 20th, brings us to 4 mag 7+ quakes in 2011, and 6 in less than a month. )

A list of yearly magnitude-7+ earthquakes since the last solar minimum in 1996 can be found in the article More Links Among the Sun, Earthquakes, and Mine Explosions.  As predicted in that article, published 17 June, we were on target to see more than 20 quakes in excess of mag 7 by the end of the year.  In fact, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), 22 mag 7+ quakes were recorded during 2010.

Today’s quake in the Loyalty Islands, variously reported at between mag 7 and 7.3, directly precedes the solar wind that is set to hit Earth in the next day or so.  I’ve noted before that that incoming solar wind effects geomagnetic changes, often resulting in earthquakes, when it impacts our planet’s magnetosphere just prior to the wind’s actual arrival on Earth.

Each earthquake is different and may be precipitated by any number of factors aside from solar activity; however, evidence for a causal relationship between the Sun and some seismic activity continues to emerge.  Aside from large coronal holes and solar eruptions, other indicators I monitor at the Spaceweather website include:  1) solar wind, which tends toward high speed and low density just before and during many seismically-active days, and 2) the auroral oval, which is often thick and strongly-lopsided on approach of solar wind and CMEs, predicting geomagnetic disturbances.


NOTE:  Depictions of the auroral oval from several key earthquake dates in 2010 are currently missing, for unknown reasons, from the Spaceweather archives.

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4 Responses to “Quick Start to 2011’s Strong Earthquakes”

  1. Things have been quiet on the sun for a while but last night they recorded the first X class solar flare of this solar cycle and the first flare of this magnitude in over 4 years. Be on guard for any anomalies or tectonic activity and look for auroras over the higher latitudes this evening. I am including a link to this story because I get the impression that they are down playing this event but I think this could be a tell tale sign of what we are to expect from this solar cycle. I don’t ever remember any X class flares this early in the cycle.


  2. Stace says:

    As you’ve noticed, it appears that the news about this week’s X2 flare has tended to be a bit skewed. I’d say reports have tended toward either under- or over-statement – sometimes in one article. For instance, Fox news reported that the “humongous” X2 flare “came on the heels of another, only slightly less powerful, class M6.6 flare.” But in terms of the amount of energy released, an X2 is substantially stronger than an M6.6 – and an X2 is toward the low end of the X-class spectrum. In 2003, the Sun ejected a massive X28+, but fortunately, that flare – the largest ever recorded – wasn’t aimed directly at Earth!

    Here’s a very basic synopsis of the current flare event: Within minutes of Monday’s X2 flare’s eruption, a wave of X-ray and ultraviolet radiation washed over the planet. By now (2 days later) auroras should be brightening – possibly in latitudes not accustomed to such light shows. I’ve heard rumours of, but haven’t confirmed, sporadic cel phone outages in the past couple of hours. The ionosphere and the magnetosphere are being disturbed right now. So yes, the X2 that was unleashed on Valentine’s Day (actually early on the 15th, in Universal Time) was indeed notable, but we must keep in mind that stronger flares are almost certainly in the offing in future weeks and months.

    Whether or not this X-class flare will be associated with an immediate increase in volcanic or earthquake activity remains to be seen. A pronounced direct or immediate correlation between the X-class solar flares and major earthquakes or volcanic eruptions isn’t obvious, but because large earthquakes and solar flares are relatively rare (compared to more common C-class or M-class flares, and small and moderate earthquakes), the lack of accessible data is no surprise. I maintain, however, that there’s a link between solar activity and earthquakes in general. In the absence of massive amounts of historical data, several factors need to be taken into consideration: that this flare was Earth-directed is, of course, significant, as is the fact that while we experienced six large earthquakes (mag 7+) between 21 December and 18 January, we haven’t seen a mag-7 since. Even so, there’s just no way to know if the next few days will see an increase in earthquake and/or volcanic activity.

    Here are a few other things of which to take note: 1) we are approaching solar maximum of cycle 24, 2) sunspots have been increasing in number and magnitude over the past several solar cycles, and 3) the Sun is revealing more mysteries all the time, behaving in ways that makes it clear that we can’t make assumptions on prior observations alone. With that said, the likelihood of much stronger X-class flares over the next couple of years is great, and while these flares may have the most immediate and noticeable impacts via radiation effects and ionospheric disturbances, other effects may be less obvious. For instance, solar flare impacts to the magnetosphere may trickle down to fault lines and magma chambers, building tectonic instability with devastating outcomes that are difficult to predict with accuracy.

  3. lauradawn says:

    I’m curious..Yesterday “Earth Changes reported a x-classwas reported to come in two weeks, and that a “(cornoal mass ejection) has hit the Earth’s magnetic field setting off a geo-magnetic storm.
    Then the *.9 Japan Earthquake came.
    My question, and I would love for someone with the knowledge of how to do so explore this…
    If the core of our Earth is metal, and this is a highly charged electromagnetic field, would it have an effect on the movement of the metals of the earth, especially those which are liquid..
    Furthermore, I wonder if the direction of the coronal mass ejection and shere it hits the earth could positively identify it’s effects… ( I hope that made sense!)

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