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At the 2011 AGU Fall meeting, this poster claimed that the water erosion from Taiwan's wettest storms could prematurely trigger large magnitude earthquakes , $ M \ge 6.0 $. If this was true, this discovery would be incredibly important for not only our understand of earthquake mechanics but also hazard prevention. Could this theory really be correct?

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    $\begingroup$ In short - Yes. The article explains clearly how it is possible theoretically and why it is probable given historical data. In light of this it is unclear what kind of answer you are looking for other than one that rehashes the paper. Do you have any reason to suspect the paper shouldn't be trusted? $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Apr 26 '14 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ It was a poster in 2011, and nothing has been published since. A discovery of this magnitude would probably be published in Nature. Also, there are a few things: they only studied 3 Earthquakes. Its very easy to do statistics with 3 samples. Also the time frames are rather large: 2-3 year time periods between the incident storm and the caused Earthquake. Did the other storms in between have nothing to do with it? Do wettest storms correlate with the most erosion? Taiwan is fairly active seismically, and we cant predict earthquakes very well in general, are the storms really a factor? $\endgroup$ – Neo Apr 26 '14 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ good point I didn't realize it wasn't published. I look forward to seeing the answer. $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Apr 26 '14 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ rsmas.miami.edu/users/swdowinski/presentations/… - power point of their presentation for those interested $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Apr 26 '14 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ This was something that was mentioned to me at undergrad in Cambridge in 2012-2013 as something that was considered highly plausible. I'll see if I can dig out any subsequent references. $\endgroup$ – kaberett Apr 30 '14 at 23:56
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The 2011 AGU poster has been cited once, by Burtin et al. (2013)1, who say in their abstract ... event activity was positively correlated with the precipitation intensity... -- but more importantly, in the body of the paper, this:

Furthermore, it has been argued that rainfall may affect the occurrence of earthquakes, either by downward fluid diffusion from the surface [e.g., Bollinger et al., 2007] or by erosional unloading of active faults [e.g., Wdowinski and Tsukanov, 2011], but these mechanisms require exceptional or very prolonged precipitation and they are likely to entail significant delays between the meteorological driver and seismic response of up to years. For these reasons, we also rule out rainfall-triggered seismicity as a possible source of the near-surface activity we have detected.

Note, however, that over the course of the study they recorded 29 events, of Ml 0.7–5.7.

Meanwhile Sobolev et al. (2012)2 - in a journal I do trust - say in their abstract:

This study is concerned with the effects of powerful Pacific cyclones on the seismicity of Kamchatka, Japan, and the Philippines. We used complete seismological catalogs for these regions that span a few tens of years. It was found that the cyclones that originate from the western Pacific generally do not exert a significant triggering effect on the seismicity of these three regions, at least in the short term, during a few weeks. The ground motion generated by cyclones, which might be treated as a trigger, does not have amplitudes above those in the motion due to numerous local earthquakes of moderate magnitudes (∼4–5) and larger teleseismic earthquakes.

The only two recent publications claiming any link at all between cyclones/extreme precipitation events and significant seismic activity (i.e. not "minor" landslips) are from sources I don't trust: a 2013 paper in a journal I've never heard of (International Journal of Geosciences) before, and a 2014 publication in "Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences Discussion. I'm dubious about them not because they are open access but because I am concerned about methodology and sources.

While this mechanism was mentioned to me as plausible as an undergraduate at Cambridge in approximately 2012, the department's view seems to have shifted (per Burtin et al - Neils Hovius is very senior in the dept). The current evidence does not appear to support any short-term link between extreme weather events and significant seismic activity. Long-term links have not been ruled out but I have not found any substantiating evidence for such connections.


1 disclaimer: it turns out I know two of the coauthors, including one of the senior ones, personally.

2 Original in Russian also available

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