Can hurricanes cause earthquakes?

The sheer chaos of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season continues. Harvey. Irma. Jose. Maria.

Then like a bad disaster movie, two powerful earthquakes rock Mexico in the midst of the hurricane chaos.

What next, locusts?

Hurricane-induced seismic waves?

The timing of the Mexico earthquakes seems purely coincidental. And it may be.

But this 2013 paper in the journal Nature suggests there may be a link between hurricanes and some earthquakes. The study suggests hurricanes generate seismic waves that may play a role in triggering earthquakes. Seismologists noticed an unusually active pattern in aftershocks from a 2011 Virginia earthquake after Hurricane Irene passed by.

The rate of aftershocks usually decreases with time, says study leader Zhigang Peng, a seismologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta. But instead of declining in a normal pattern, the rate of aftershocks following the 23 August 2011, earthquake near Mineral, Virginia, increased sharply as Irene passed by.

Scientists did not initially notice the unusual pattern, Peng said, because the aftershocks were small (many less than magnitude 2) and the hurricane itself produced a lot of seismic noise.“You have to use pattern-recognition techniques to detect small aftershocks buried by this noise,” Peng says.

His team used that approach to examine seismic records from the days following the main earthquake, identifying about 700 aftershocks — about 10 times more than had been previously reported using less-sensitive detection techniques.

The body of work on any links between hurricanes and earthquakes is very small. It’s likely too small to draw any firm conclusions about a possible link.

Hurricane-plate tectonics?

The concept of linkages between massive amounts of energy released by hurricanes and effects on the earth’s crust seems plausible. Meteorologists measure hurricane output through a metric called “Accumulated Cyclone Energy.“(ACE)

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is already pushing records for ACE on several levels.

This atmospheric measure of the energy produced by hurricanes does not account for unseen energy that may produce seismic waves which may jostle or pull on the earth’s crust. How do we measure the combined effects on earth’s crust from huge waves and storm surges pounding coastlines for days during a storm?

Maybe hurricane-plate tectonics will one day be an evolving area of research.