Melting glaciers are contributing to earthquakes in Alaska, research finds

Edited By: Bharat Sharma WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Mar 21, 2021, 12:13 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

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Even though tectonic changes and movements have been attributed as the primary cause of earthquakes in the area, authors believe that loss of glaciers is causing significant harm

Glaciers across the world are melting quickly in the face of climate change and the aberrant changes triggered in weather. Alaska’s glaciers are also melting. Now, a scientific model posits that the unprecedented melting of glaciers could be behind the earthquakes in the region.

As glaciers melt, land underneath rises upward again, but there’s enormous levels of pressure and weight involved in this process.

Researchers looked at records of ice loss and seismic records starting 1920 and found that majority of the earthquakes were linked to melting of ice. Due to adjustments in glacial mass caused from ice melt, at least 23-30 earthquakes with magnitudes over 5.0 have troubled the region.

The Glacier Bay Icefield near Lituya Bay has lost over 3,000 square kilometres of ice since 1770. This has thinned the ice field by up to 1.5 kilometres.

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Even though tectonic changes and movements have been attributed as the primary cause of earthquakes in the area, authors believe that loss of glaciers is causing significant harm.

As glaciers melt, the weight over large masses is let off. This, in turn makes it easier for plates beneath to slip and move. Scientists believe this could cause unpredictable earthquakes in the future. The research was undertaken by Chris Rollins, a seismic risk scientist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. 

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“There are two components to the uplift… There’s what’s called the ‘elastic effect,’ which is when the earth instantly springs back up after an ice mass is removed. Then there’s the prolonged effect from the mantle flowing back upwards under the vacated space”, Rollins said in a release on the university website.

But there’s a catch - melting glaciers do not necessarily mandate earthquakes. In fact, only places where tectonic pressure beneath ice is already high remain the most vulnerable to quakes. Among these spots are Alaska - especially in the southwestern areas, along with Greenland.

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