Stormquakes: A Seismic Discovery

Two cataclysms become one.

One might regard a hurricane hitting at the same time as an earthquake to be the work of science fiction. Perhaps a foreshadowing to Armageddon or the bitter end to a dystopian novella. After all, a geological occurrence such as this must have caused an extraordinary amount of damage, right? Wrong.

Stormquakes are not only real — they’re prevalent. The study, described in Geophysical Research Letters, found that 14,077 stormquakes had occurred between September 2006 and February 2015 in the Gulf of Mexico and off Florida, New England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and British Columbia. During these events, a hurricane causes the seafloor to rumble like a 3.5-magnitude earthquake and it can last for days.

Wenyuan Fan, a seismologist at Florida State University and the study’s lead author, described these events as storms triggering giant waves in the sea — this produces a secondary wave that interacts with the seafloor and causes the shaking. However, these events are not ubiquitous, as this can only happen in places where there is a large continental shelf and shallow flat land.

Stormquakes have been materializing with such regularity — how could we be unaware of these seismic manifestations for so long?

“We just didn’t know what to look for.” Fan says, adding that a lot of this information has previously been discarded as noise in our seismic readings, but scientists are now seeing how that “noise” may be providing useful records of environmental happenings.

“A stormquake is more an oddity than something that can hurt you because no one is standing on the seafloor during a hurricane.”

Wenyuan Fan, Florida State University Seismologist

While a stormquake might sound terrifying, you should not be concerned.

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