Distant earthquakes and volcanoes

Photograph by NASA. Grimsvötn 2011 eruption seen from Space.

The world is filled with people believing that large earthquakes cause volcanoes to erupt far far away. Lately we have had quite a few very large earthquakes that all where above 8 in magnitudes and two that was on the mega-colossal scale (Tohoku and Boxing-day earthquakes).

Here is the list since 2000:

2001: June 23 Peru (8.4)

2003: September 25 Hokkaido Japan (8.3)

2004: December 23 Macquery Islands New Zealand (8.1), December 26 Sumatra Indonesia (9.1 Boxing day earthquake)

2005: March 28 Nias Indonesia (8.6)

2006: May 3 Tonga (8.0), November 15 Kuril Islands Russia (8.3)

2007: January 13 Kuril Islands Russia (8.1), April 1 Solomon Islands (8.1), August 15 Chincha Alta Peru (8.0), September 12 Sumatra Indonesia (8.5)

2009: September 29 Samoa Islands (8.1)

2010: February 27 Maule Chile (8.8)

2011: March 11 Japan (9.0 Tohoku)

2012: April 12 Sumatra Indonesia (8.5), April 12 Sumatra Indonesia (8.2)

Good, now we have raw data. Among these are 6 out of the 11 strongest earthquakes recorded by man. One of the earthquakes was the third largest earthquake ever recorded. If something could rock the boat it would be one of these ones. Oh, and before you go off on the “there are more earthquakes now than before train”, no it s not. It is just that we have far more seismometers available now.

Photograph by M. Rietze. Stunning image of Eyjafjallajökull 2010.

What do we need now? Well, a couple of smoking close to eruption volcanoes would be good. Iceland is bound to have a couple. So let us check for the usual suspects. We had 3 eruptions happening (2 Grimsvötn and 1 Eyjafjallajökull). On top of that we have Hekla who is achingly close to erupting since 2007; Hekla is most likely the closest volcano on the planet to tipping over into an eruption. And for fun, let us throw in Etna; she is always up for a show.

Let us start with Grimsvötn, the penultimate bad-boy of Iceland. Grimsvötn has had more eruptions than any volcano during the last 300 years, and also the world’s largest fissure eruption during the same time period. We should find something there should we not?

2004 November 1? Nope, nothing happened then. 2011 May 21 (Grimsvötns largest eruption in a century). Nothing spectacular happening on that date.

Now you are going, Eyjafjallajökull, she disturbed airline traffic and was a messy bastard, surely that one was caused by an earthquake? 2010 March 17 (Fimmvörduhals-eruption) and April 14 (Eyjafjallajökull crater eruption). Well, I am sorry but nothing happened then.

Photograph by Nasa. Etna in full swing.

Let us now go for Etna, she is having loads of small eruptions during this time-period, so statistically at least one should coincide with a large earthquake. Let us check. I am not going to write a long list of the eruptions, I will just write down those that occurred that coincides with an actual earthquake. And once again it shows that no major eruption coincides with an Earthquake. If we then go into the last eruption of Etna that started in August 2010 and is still ongoing we find that Etna had series of small eruptions called Paroxysms. These happen about monthly so one of them would surely be a jackpot.

Lo and behold! We have a match! After 10 days of being quiet Etna had a paroxysm in the morning of the 12th of April. Thank the Gods, we have proven that Earthquakes causes Eruptions!

Or did we really? No we did not. Etna is a very predictable volcano, and Dr. Boris Behncke had already warned about the eruption coming 36 hours before the earthquake. Hm, so the volcano was already going to erupt. In reality the eruption was actually not coupled that well with the earthquake, there was 4 hours in between them.

Image by Icelandic Met Office. Here you can see the effect of the initial 8.5M Sumatra quake. The sinusoidal effect on the plot is earth-tides. The amount of energy shown for the quake is 10 000 times less than during the 2000 eruption of Hekla.

Well then Hekla, the most trigger happy volcano on the Planet. Locked and loaded to go off since at least 2007, one would think that nasty mess of a volcano would do something. Well she did, she shivered as jolly pudding. Here you can see both the 8.5 and the 8.2 earthquakes. It is a nice image, it shows that there is enough lava down there to actually shiver like a pudding, otherwise it proves nothing. The last eruption produced a motion 10 000 times larger. So, if the volcano closest to a large eruption on the planet did nothing more than behaves like Jell-O I would say that this matter is over with.

An Earthquake cannot cause an eruption in a far off volcano. Get over it.

Bonus volcano, Mount Merapi! We should not be euro-centric.  Guess what, there were no earthquake then either.

Merapi at work.


It is actually quite simple, the waves generated are filtered by the vast mass of earth, when the waves from the earthquake finally arrives only the most low in frequency are left, and they span a lot of area, we are talking about waves that are 100s of meters wide up to kilometers wide. They do not cause a kick in the ass of the magma causing it to de-gas, instead it gently sloshes it a bit. Like the difference of dropping a beer-can on the floor and opening it, and gently pulling the tap and pouring it after having turned the can gently upside down a few times.

If you do not believe me about the filtering try this experiment. Put on your favorite recording on your loudspeakers. Tape a piece of cardboard over the tweeters, listen. You should now hear that the high frequencies are muted. Now repeat the same thing over the bas. Not much happening right? Now, let us have fun, put in some earplugs before doing this. Now go and crank up the volume and take a look at the cardboard. It should by now be pulsing with the base pretty visible. Gosh darn it; same does the earth do to the earthquake waves.

The gently rocking motion of a teleseism (distant earthquake) is quite reminding of the gentle slow-moving earth-tides. And they do not cause eruptions either (nor earthquakes), but that is another bedtime story for another evening.

Earthquake on Earthquake

The same principle also goes for Earthquakes. A distant Earthquake is not going to cause a distant fault-line to rupture. Why? Well again the waveforms are so large that they move all of the fault-line at the same time in a slow and equal movement. Think here about going for a massage and compare it to being hit a few times by a boxer. The massage does not really hurt you, but the boxer will.

In this case the boxer was the blow of 8.5 at Sumatra, it damaged a close by fault-line causing the following 8.2 Earthquake. So I am sad to say that physics do not allow teleseisms to set off series of large earthquakes all over the planet. Get over it 2012ers.


Photograph by Eggert Nordahl. All copyrights reserved. For usage contact Volcanocafé. This beautifull picture shows Hekla in the late evening a few days ago.

274 thoughts on “Distant earthquakes and volcanoes

  1. Hope you are all doing ok. Can anyone tell me how Dean’s dad is doing, and if Judith is going on her holiday. Newby hope the ribs better now. I will try and get on a bit earlier tomorow ,if the internet is working. Hugs to all. Oh and last but not least, thank you Carl for the new post.

    • Deans Father is doing a bit better now, but still a long way left. Judiths husband was going to the hospital yesterday for a check-up of toe to see if they could go on vacation, Newby had stoped with pain-killers (on the mend).

      Good Luck!

    • Morning/Evening Everyone
      Hope you are well Hattie.
      Husband back again tomorrow at the hospital still no definate yes on holiday although he is walking a lot better on his foot so still fingers crossed.

    • I read your post. Daddy is restless but i was called at four o clock we are speaking with the docter at four o clock and then i know more thank you for interest! Nice! That you thinking at us! À very day to all!

  2. Joke has reported seeing a jaquzzi yesterday evening over on earthquake-report,com.

    Photo courtesy of Joke.

  3. Hell. Catching up on you is just hell. The quickly peering in mode kills me. I don’t even manage the bantering anymore, not worth talking about any possibility for “scientific” input. But it keeps good reading whenever it fits in the schedule. What a busy group.
    Have a nice day. I’ll try to drop some bad jokes in the afternoon or evening as I’ll probably sit a bit in the office. But there are urgent things reports to write on money-issues. Some dude with a tie starts asking everywhere for new cost/value evaluations. He really asks for too much and we get lost in administration… For me it’s work to put it down on paper so that the economists can read it, but all my project undergo a risk and benefit evaluation before I decide to do something, so it’s time but not really a problem. Others that thought less when starting project seem to be struggeling a lot right now… But our modern society is doomed. When I look at the time I loose for justification and writing budget-stuff instead of going on with my actual work, I get mad. We ge no more staff for work, but they took a lot of controllers to be sure we do it right. Now these controllers take us incredible time to explain what we do and justifications all few weeks. Since they are here, time is shorter and shorter to do things, and I didn’t save a single dime. A disaster. Half of their salaries for ressources where they are needed and we would slowly get a better situation, but here, the first results of the controllers are just that we actually do our work, but that they would like more “instruments” for monitoring our activities. Ehm, yeah, sure. Stand next to me and carry my stuff in the field… 🙂
    Who cares, within the next 10 days I’ll get a 55″ TV (sales stuff, last year’s model left in their stock, for 55% of the original price – yeaiiih… 🙂 ). That’s the really important things in life, ain’t it?

    • It happens.

      I knew of a service call that sat in limbo for two days while they mulled over who was gonna pay for it. I couldn’t do anything with it until it was officially assigned. They released it to me 3 hours before it would go into “breach of contract” status (for them). Luckily it was not at a long haul site.

      • We need to know exactly how much money you’re gonna spend on protective measures in the next 4 years.
        Dudes, a part is prevention, that will be so and so much, but a part will be as reaction to a hazardous event, I can’t tell.
        You have to make a proper planning for your interventions.
        Guys, I dunno what will strike us in the next 4 years. Have no crystal ball that shows me when exactly rocks might fall. That’s a part that will have to stay a little “open”.
        Budget-wise this is unacceptable.
        Aha. (tell the “interstellar powers unites TM”…)

        As said so many times before: we’re so doomed, but not because of volcanoes or big impactors or even the worst – CO2… 🙂

        • bean counters are what they are called, pain in the proverbial especially if they haven’t got a clue what it is you are trying to do, feel for you

        • “interstellar powers uniteD” of course.
          Thanks Ursh…
          How I’d like to post my 2 page note of this morning. Here in volcanocafé this would probably be one of my best attempts to make you lough… The ultimate proof that serious can be hilarious…

    • Good morning Geo 😀 I know just what you mean. I am so glad I have retired now and can actually manage to do more actual “Work” than I did when I worked!! Controllers and managers are an international problem.
      Some idiot in the Royal Mail Offices, somewhere in London came up with a bright computer program.
      Data put in ….How fast a postman walks with One bag of mailed filled to the health and safety maximum weight with standard letters. The distance between each delivery ie letter box in door (In London city ? )
      The result is the time it should take for each postman’s walk.
      My Husband has to first sort the mail for his walk into organised bundles, Only then can he start delivering to blocks of apartments, (these have lifts that often do not work!,) Houses with steps up and down, houses with long driveways, shops, offices etc.steep hills and busy roads to cross. Nothing like the computerised walk!!!

      The computer programs have led to customers having only one delivery a day and that much later. More failed deliveries by staff that are not trained and find walking round in rail, hail and snow is not easy.
      Ah! In the good old days managers mostly started off as a worker and understood the problems encountered. Now a degree in management with little experience of the actual physical work, will give access to any industry and more frightening ……into politics.
      ARGHHHHHH! Time for coffee before off to a morning of waiting and sharp needles. 😀

      • Now wait, you’re claiming that postmen are do not behave like little dot’s on your screen when you run a computer simulation? Shame on you! You didn’t understand anything about modern management, and should go with your time…
        I love that kind of stories…
        McKinsey-people ones came to our university, presenting their “new opportunities for scientist”. If you passed their selection, you could have become a councillor. Now imagine what that means: a young (24-26 years old) biologist, physicist, geologist is “formed” within a very few month and let out explaining a 50 year old guy that has built his own company how to put people on the street so he can get more money out of the thing. And you’d earn twice as much an with any serious scientist-job. Well that for sure is not my cup of tea… (and I know I didn’t paint the picture completely right, but I can’t change it, that’s the résumé from my perspective – and geeeez until now it was more proved right than wrong…)

        • You know, your life would have been so much simpler if you had been a 2012er. Then you would just have had to write your report up untill December 20. And when they asked why you did not do the full 4 years you would just have answered “because we will all die by the 21st in a horrible risk management accident”.

          • I was considering spending my credit cards to the max using the same excuse – but I think the loan companies will still be in business on 1 Jan 2013 even if the rest of society is in ruins. 🙂

  4. Good Morning Judith and Good evening Hattie. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you and your Husband Judith.
    Hmmm! Bob is dead! Long live Bob!

    Off to Hospital appointment soon. Sod’s law…It’s a beautiful sunny morning and I hear my vegetable patch crying out for attention . There are weather warnings for our area. Torrential downpours . So I don’t think I will be sowing and digging again today GRRRRRR!

    BBL take care everyone.

  5. We here in central Europe are going to get plenty of Sahara-dust with the southern winds these days. Forecast-models go mad. Some see perfect weather, others see the particles generate precipitation. One thing is sure: nice sunsets ahead…

    Oh, and to make it a bit on topic: earthquakes and volcanoes are something very interesting… 🙂

    • Perhaps this will make it slightly more on topic an article on volcanic eruptions and their possible effect on the reduction of hurricane formation:

      Seems like it might be cherry picking or perhaps just there is only a small dataset – though it seems he count of major eruptions and number of hurricanes per season should be faily well documented. I’d have thought that might make a nice Lurking Plot, probably needing only eruptions that reached the upper atmosphere and then by volume, against number and intensity of hurricanes, all over time 🙂

        • But that would be to mistake cause for effect.
          They have two completely different causes for the effect of electric discharge.
          Hurricanes discharge due to different polarities between cloud and ground, volcanoes discharge due to static electricity due to the friction when the superheated particles rub against each other.
          Here I have simplified the Hurricane part quite a bit. In reallity any thundercloud have two polarities and thusly can work like batteries accumulating untill discharge take place, either upwards, internally, or down into the ground.

          • I should have said Tornadoes as both discharge the same way being on Terra Firma and a hurricane is over sea, but looses its momentum when over land

    • it would mean the Australian plate is moving NE and get the whole ball rolling again, it only ever happens with the deep quakes 400 – 600km +

      • Hi Ursh, it’s not just the Aussie plate moving north. Don’t forget how quickly the Pacific plate is spreading. Some of the largest annual movement on the planet is located near Tonga.

    • Well I would not bet on the in the neighbourhood part either since that is not in what I wrote 🙂

  6. OT. In the Straits of Messena: Approach from the NW had nice view of a snow capped peak with a white plume. Photos sometime.

  7. Back ……..With a little less blood in my veins, so I need to recuperate with coffee, chocolate cake and some relaxation 😀
    Considering a refinement of Carl’s Post and a fascinating discussion held last year on Jon’s blog.
    reading the discussion may help readers consider the physics behind energy transfer from plate movement to Volcano. It may also help provide an insight into the complexities of geology of Iceland.
    The discussion begins here
    Some interesting points about distant ‘Quakes triggering volcanic activity on the next post and comments concerning very “active” scientific discussion here

    The discussion continues……….

    I found much food for thought here and I apply what I have learned and some of the ideas put forward to other areas of the world. It is only then that the difficulties of comparing areas becomes apparent. So many other variables to factor in.

    Also it shows perfectly how ideas and knowledge should be presented. With links, examples and polite responses.
    My thanks to Jon . If nobody knows about his icelandic Volcanoes blog I suggest you visit . He has set up his own seismometers and is a truly dedicated amateur.


  8. Hi all, just want to let you know I’m still alive. Just very very busy at new job and not having stuff sorted out properly at new appartment yet (e.g. no internet at home yet and all my stuff still in transition between countries for another couple of weeks and then I’ll have to actually unpack all the stuff, can’t wait /end sarcasm). International moving is tiring, but I knew that before, so I shouldn’t complain :-P.
    Interesting posts while I was gone and I’ll try to peek in every now and then from work while I am still internet-less at home, but more input and a proper catch up will have to wait.

    • Only big thing you missed was last weird Etna paroxysm. Made even Boris utter the words “Say what?”. Etna started a paroxysm with imitating Kilauea with gentle lava floods.

      Good to hear from you 🙂
      I guess I will get my part of tiring moving between countries soon.
      I am still curious to find out if there is even internet in Spain, and how to get it… 🙂

      • there is no travel between France and Spain for about a week or so, they have a conference G20 from memory, closed boarders for it, because of possible ‘threat’

    • Hi Ursula, welcome back! Glad to hear you arrived safely in your new home. Do not work all the time, take some time to rest and enjoy your new environment too!

    • Hi Ursula
      Sending my best wishes for happiness in your new home. One day you will be organised and unpacked and will be able to relax. Mind you we still have boxes in our loft not touched since we moved in in 1993 !! It’s good to see you again and hear you are OK.

  9. Updated: Thursday, 26 April, 2012 at 03:09 UTC
    Gas and long columns of volcanic ash poured from the top of Mexico’s Popocatepetl on Wednesday (April 25). One week ago, Mexico’s National Centre for Disaster Prevention raised the alert level for Popocatepetl, indicating possible magma expulsion and explosions of increasing intensity. It is the third-highest warning on the center’s seven-step scale. On Wednesday, the Center’s Director, Roberto Quass, said that the volcano’s activity was stable and that, for the moment, it poses no danger. According to civil protection authorities, exit routes for towns have been cleared and shelters established with bed and kitchen facilities in case an order for evacuation is given. The 17,992 feet volcano, whose name means “smoking mountain”, lies 40 miles southeast of Mexico City and its 18 million residents. “Popo,” as the volcano is commonly known, has spat out mile-high clouds of ash and smoke several times this year. Its last major eruption took place in 2000, just one week shy of Christmas Day. Over 40,000 evacuees chaotically fled their homes to avoid danger.

  10. Shiveluch has apparently erupted again – a 10.7km cloud according to google news but I can’t see a report on Kvert which that article apparently cited. It also suggested the alert colour was red but kvert looks to have it as orange.

    • The report came from ITAR-TASS news agency. It has been issuing news items on nearly a daily basis!

      Shiveluch has been spewing ash for around four weeks or so, mostly short-duration explosive events, although on the 16th it lasted all day.

      Yesterday’s ash plume was the highest of this latest period of activity.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s