With recent earthquakes, several sources have started claiming that this is a sign of the change we are causing. This paper indicates a historical association (but does not claim causal relationship). In the media this appears to have started with a claim by Danny Glover which was originally not taken seriously.

Is there a substantial amount of independent scientific research (more than three papers, by at least two unaffiliated groups) indicating that increasing the temperatures of the earth by a few degrees over a century will cause more earthquakes?

For the purpose of this question let's assume that AGW is correct and that we are affecting the temperature at least 1 degree Celsius over the next hundred years. That way we can discuss the actual question.

The 1 degree is not meant to be a limitation. I would take as evidence any historical earthquake triggered by global temperature change. The last comment was just to avoid AGW arguments.

  • Re: the specificity. I often see comments of "What would you consider proof" so I've tried to be specific as to what counts for me. Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 20:02
  • You will not find "will" in this sort of paper, just "may". And similarly a wetter climate "may" trigger more volcanoes. But the scale of climate changes you are considering (1 degree over 100 years) is much lower than annual seasonal swings, so any effect would probably be small compared with what would happen anyway.
    – Henry
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 9:56
  • First I would ask - are they now more Earthquakes than before? (It is possible we are able to detect more, or we learn about more because of media, but the actual number could be the same).
    – Suma
    Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 13:27
  • At this point in the recorded history of our earth, it would be impossible to determine even a statistical correlation, nevermind causal link between global climate change and earthquakes. One could look at theories and experiments that may suggest what you're really after, but you will not find peer-reviewed research that answers your exact question. Also, most scientist have cast off "global warming" and are instead focusing on "global climate change" - for a variety of reasons. You should consider your question more carefully and edit it accordingly...
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 18:19

1 Answer 1


I don't think it started with Danny Glover, although I can't be bothered to try and find out what he was talking about.

The article you cite from The Guardian attributes the claim to Tony Song, who's a scientist, not an actor. He gave a presentation on this topic, but doesn't seem to have published a paper on it [PDF].

However, he's not the only scientist to have made the case for a causal link between climate and plate tectonics. See, e.g., "Monsoon speeds up Indian plate motion," published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, by Giampiero Iaffaldano, Laurent Husson, and Hans-Peter Bunge.

A 2004 paper by Jeanne M. Sauber and Bruce F. Molnia, "Glacier ice mass fluctuations and fault instability in tectonically active Southern Alaska," [subscription required, see also this news story and this visualization, published in Global and Planetary Change, found:

Our results suggest that a cumulative decrease in the fault stability margin at seismogenic depths, due to ice wastage over 80 years, was large, up to 2 MPa.

If you look at citations of that paper, you'll find plenty more by unaffiliated groups. And there are even more, if you look hard enough.

So it seems likely that local climate change can cause earthquakes. What your question implies, but doesn't state, however, is, "Does global warming increase earthquakes overall?"

I don't think that's a settled question.

Note that there is such a thing as a "glacial earthquake," but I'm presuming you're asking about the sort involving the Earth's crust.

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