Tropical storms, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis

To add even more to the woes outlined the previous blogpost, geophysical mayhem is likely in times of rapid global heating.

As Bill McGuire says in this 2016 Guardian article, How climate change triggers earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes:

The atmosphere is far from isolated and interacts with other elements of the so-called “Earth system”, such as the oceans, ice caps and even the ground beneath our feet, in complex and often unexpected ways capable of making our world more dangerous.

All sorts of forces are in play, including:

  • The severity of tropical storms (1) will increase, caused by the rising temperature of the sea. (2)
  • The land mass under the ice cap is weighed down. When the ice melts, the water moves away, leaving the land to rebound. (Think of the effect on the mattress if your kid jumps up and down on the bed).
  • Water can get into places solid ice cannot; for example under a glacier, or into magma below or around a volcano. (3)
  • As the McGuire article explains, sudden changes in atmospheric pressures, such as happens during a tropical storm, can be the trigger for volcanoes and earthquakes. (4)
  • We can also expect bigger and more frequent landslides on high mountains as their glaciers retreat.
  • The shifting of weight off the landmass under the ice caps has an effect on the teutonic plates below the Earth’s surface. And when they move, there are dramatic effects from abrupt earthquakes to slow-moving continental drift. (5)

McGuire ends his article with these portentous words:

when it comes to the manifold hazardous by-blows of an overheating planet, and especially those involving the ground we stand on, we must also be prepared to expect the unexpected.


And what can we do? The next blogpost is about that.


(1) Tropical storms: Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific. Cyclones are formed over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Typhoons are formed over the Northwest Pacific Ocean.

(2) Sea temperatures were six degrees higher than usual for the time of year, in the weeks before Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked its damage across the North Island of New Zealand.

(3) There’s some debate about the relationship between heavy rainfall and volcanic eruptions; see this article from the European Space Agency.

(4) And . . . correlation or causation? The 6.1 earthquake off the coast of New Zealand, 55km away from the capital, Wellington, that shook both the North and South Islands on 15th February 2023.

(5) Quarrying has exposed the stunning sight of a 450 million year old tropical seabed on the side of the Wren’s Nest in Dudley.


Featured image by Angelo Giordano.


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