All You Need to Know About Stormquakes, a Newly Discovered Natural Disaster


Dec 11, 2019


Image Credit: CNN

In today’s episode of ‘This Is How We All Die’: researchers have discovered a new geophysical phenomenon charmingly named “stormquakes.” According to new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, hurricanes and other strong storms can produce earthquakes at a magnitude of up to 3.5 on the Richter scale.

“During a storm season, hurricanes or nor’easters transfer energy into the ocean as strong ocean waves, and the waves interact with the solid earth producing intense seismic source activity,” Wenyuan Fan, Ph.D. lead author of the study and an assistant professor at Florida State University in the U.S., said in a statement.

The number one hazard of underwater, or submarine, earthquakes is a release of waves, which, depending on the magnitude of the earthquake, could be tsunami size. While tsunamis typically only form from earthquakes at a Richter scale of 7.5 or above, there may be a possibility of them occurring due to a particularly strong stormquake. Submarine earthquakes can also damage underwater fiber optics cables, depriving people of internet and communications services.

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In order to detect stormquakes, researchers developed a method to detect and locate seismic events, and then determine if these events were stormquakes. After analysis of more than a decade’s (2006 to 2019) worth of seismic and oceanographic records, researchers found a connection between strong storms and vibrations in the Earth’s crust near ocean banks (shallow parts of the seabed). They went on to discover evidence for around 10,000 stormquakes that occurred off the coast of New England, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico in the U.S., and Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and British Columbia in Canada, during that period.

Stormquakes tend to last anywhere from mere hours to multiple days. Not all hurricanes can cause stormquakes. When stormquakes do occur, they tend to stay concentrated in certain hotspots. Even Hurricane Sandy, one of the most devastating storms on record in the United States, did not cause any stormquakes.

This, according to researchers, means that stormquakes are influenced by local oceanographic features and seafloor topography. Stormquakes often originate in regions with broad and shallow ocean banks, which allow waves to interact with each other and form a longer, low-frequency wave, according to what Fan told National Geographic. The pressure from these waves transfers to the ground, creating the stormquake.

“We weren’t even aware of the existence of the natural phenomenon. It really highlights the richness of the seismic wavefield and suggests we are reaching a new level of understanding of seismic waves,” Fan said.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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