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Is Solar activity to blame for Japan's massive earthquake?

Paul Hudson | 11:27 UK time, Friday, 11 March 2011

The massive earthquake that affected Japan this morning is one of the strongest in recorded history at 8.9 on the Richter scale.

With a number of powerful earthquakes recently it once again begs the question, is there a link between seismic activity and solar activity?

Recently we have witnessed a very unusual, prolonged period of low solar activity. Solar activity though has increased sharply in recent weeks.

Only yesterday I noticed that the number of recorded sunspots (a crude measure of solar activity) was in excess of 100 - compared with 6 months ago when the number of sunspots was zero.

In March last year a preliminary study was published from the Space and Science research centre in Florida.

A review of historical records was performed for 350 years of global volcanic activity (1650-2009) and seismic (earthquake) activity for the past 300 years (1700 to 2009) within the continental United States and then compared to the Sun's record of sunspots as a measure of solar activity.

According to this study, there exists a strong correlation between solar activity and the Earth's largest seismic and volcanic events.

They found an impressive degree of correlation for global volcanic activity (>80.6%) and for the largest USA earthquakes (100% of the top 7 most powerful) versus solar activity lows.

According to another study, published in Earth and Planetary Science letters, solar activity, as indicated by sunspots, radio noise and geomagnetic indices, plays a significant but by no means exclusive role in the triggering of earthquakes, with maximum quake frequency occurring at times of moderately high and fluctuating solar activity - which is what we have seen in the last few weeks.

Piers Corbyn, at Weather action, added last month following the New Zealand earthquake that within such long quieter solar periods like we have been through, the biggest earthquake & volcano events are triggered by extra solar activity, particularly during the the rising phase of even solar cycles.

This is precisely where we are now as Solar cycle 24 gains in strength. He also claims that solar activity strongly influences climate patterns too.

According to Mr Corbyn, 'The (New Zealand) event follows the world wide increase in volcanism and earthquakes in the last year or two and confirms the general statistical fact that more - and more serious - earthquakes, and volcanic activity, tend to occur around solar cycle minima'.

He reckons there will be more strong earthquakes like the ones we have recently witnessed in the next 2 years.

This is another one of those frustrating areas of science. There does seem to be empirical evidence to show a link between periods of low solar activity, and increased occurrences of earthquakes, but quite why this is so is not fully understood.


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