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Name: Jim G
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999


Question:
California had a lot of rain last year. We also had a pretty nasty earthquake recently. Do you suppose there may be a correlation between seismic activity and rainfall? More specifically, would it be possible that heavy rainfall causes fault movement because of increased weight of soil from the increased water content?


Replies:
It is pretty unlikely that there is any connection between rainfall and earthquakes. Earthquakes usually occur pretty deep within the earth. For example, the depth of the latest earthquake in Los Angeles was about 12 miles. The weight of any added rainfall would be small compared to the weight of 12 miles of earth.

However, some people do believe in a connection between weather and earthquakes. For centuries, people have referred to hot weather as "earthquake weather." The idea is that earthquakes are more likely to occur during hot weather. A scientist, Jerome Namias, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, published a paper in 1989 suggesting that earthquakes do occur more often in hot weather. I would say that most seismologists (people who study earthquakes) are skeptical of the connection between weather and earthquakes. But there might be something to it.

Also you will be interested to know that the weight of water can definitely cause earthquakes. Water impounded in a resevoir can sometimes trigger an earthquake. For example, the filling of the Oroville Dam in northern California probably triggered the magnitude 5.7, 1975, Lake Oroville, California earthquake. The triggering of earthquakes by the filling of dams can be a major concern in seismically active areas. There is the possibility that the triggered earthquake will cause the dam to fail leading to a serious flood. Engineers who build dams sometimes have to consider this possiblity in the design of the dam.

-Grant



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