Seismic Events

Seismic events taking place in the Arctic can include earthquakes, volcano eruptions, landslides and shockwaves that trigger registrations by measuring equipment. Tsunamis associated with such events can also be included. The focus of this page is on links between seismic events in the Arctic and methane releases.

An example of a landslide is the M 4.2 seismic events in Greenland
location: 107km N of Uummannaq, Greenland
date: 2017-06-17 23:39:12 UTC
co-ordinates: 71.640°N 52.344°W
For more, see this discussion.

Earthquakes and Methane

An earthquake hit the Arctic Ocean with a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter scale on July 12, 2016. High levels of methane showed up in the atmosphere on July 15, 2016, over the area where the earthquake hit.

- High Methane Levels Follow Earthquake in Arctic Ocean

An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.5 on the Richter scale hit the seafloor 204 km East of Nord, Greenland, on May 8, 2017. The inset shows that methane levels over 1950 ppb (magenta color) were recorded on the morning of May 8, 2017, by two satellites.

- Earthquake east of Greenland triggers methane releases

Some of the earthquakes occurring in 2014 were discussed in specific posts:
M4.6 - North of Franz Josef Land, 2014-04-13 02:12:19 UTC, discussed in this post
M4.2 - North of Franz Josef Land, 2014-04-04 07:01:30 UTC
M4.4 - 262km NE of Nord, Greenland, 2014-04-22 10:30:23 UTC, discussed in this post
M4.3 - 148km SSE of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 2014-04-24 08:33:06 UTC
M5.1 - Greenland Sea, 2014-04-26 03:55:33 UTC, discussed in this post
M4.5 - Gakkel Ridge, 2014-03-06 11:17.17.0 UTC, discussed in this post

As melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet speeds up, isostatic rebound could cause earthquakes around Greenland to become stronger and occur more frequently. Earthquakes in this region are very worrying, as they can destabilize hydrates contained in the sediment under the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, one earthquake can trigger further earthquakes, especially at locations closeby on the same faultline.

- M5.1 Earthquake hits Greenland Sea

Earthquakes and Extreme Weather Events

An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.6 on the Richter scale hit Baffin Island on February 12, 2015, at 02:11:40 (UTC). The image below, from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), shows the epicenter of the quake.

The earthquake occurred at a time when surface temperature anomalies over parts of North America and Greenland are at the bottom end of the scale, while surface temperature anomalies over parts of Siberia are at the top end of the scale, as illustrated by the image below.

The image below shows pressure differences reaching the top and bottom ends of the scale (left). At the same time, sea surface temperature anomalies around North America and Greenland are at the top end of the scale (right). It appears that something had to give.

This earthquake is important, given that it hit an area without large faultlines (though earthquakes are common here, also see this discussion). The Baffin Island earthquake occurred in an area prone to glacial isostatic adjustment, as illustrated by the image below.

From "", (unfiltered version). Credit: A, G., J. Wahr, and S. Zhong (2013) "Computations
of the viscoelastic response of a 3-D compressible Earth to surface loading: an application to Glacial Isostatic
Adjustment in Antarctica and Canada", Geophys. J. Int., 192, 557–572, doi: 10.1093/gji/ggs030
Glacial isostatic adjustment as a phenomenon takes place over relatively long periods. An additional problem is extreme weather events influencing the occurence of earthquakes more immediately.

Five earthquakes occured on February 13, 2015, closely after each other together:
- M5.3 Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge 2015-02-13 18:48:16 UTC 10.0 km
- M4.9 Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge 2015-02-13 18:58:06 UTC 10.0 km
- M7.1 Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge 2015-02-13 18:59:12 UTC 13.8 km, south of Greenland
- M4.7 Reykjanes Ridge 2015-02-13 21:25:18 UTC 10.0 km
- M5.2 Reykjanes Ridge 2015-02-13 19:33:10 UTC 14.2 km

The M7.1 is the largest earthquake to hit the area around Greenland in a decade or more. And it's not just this one that has recently hit the area. The image below shows the February 12, 2015. Baffin Island quake in yellow, and the earthquakes that occurred on February 13, 2015, at the Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge in orange. Furthermore, there are recent quakes on Iceland in orange and yellow. There were also three large earthquakes in the Greenland Sea, the 4.6 one is highlighted in blue (otherwise it would have been hidden).

The image below gives an impression of extreme weather events on February 13-14, 2015.

Links between extreme weather events and earthquakes have been discussed before. Extreme weather events look set to intensify as temperatures in the Arctic keep rising. This is very worrying, given the vulnerability of methane under the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, there are also indications that methane could be released from Greenland due to sequences of strong compaction and expansion of the snow and ice cover, due to extreme weather events.

High methane levels have recently been recorded in the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean, including over Baffin Bay.

Methane is present in sediments under the Arctic Ocean in the form of free gas and hydrates. Earthquakes can send out strong tremors through the sediment and shockwaves through the water, which can trigger further earthquakes, landslides and destabilization of methane hydrates.

As temperatures in the Arctic keep rising, the jet streams and polar vortex are changing their shape, in particular becoming more wavy, which can cause more extreme weather events such as the events described above.

- Something had to give - Baffin Island hit by M4.6 earthquake

Methane Release caused by Earthquakes

Methane hydrates can become destabilized due to changes in temperature or pressure, as a result of earthquakes and shockwaves accompanying them, severe storms, volcanic activity, coastal collapse and landslides. As an example, an earthquake followed by methane release was discussed in the post Sea of Okhotsk a few months back. Such events can be both primed and triggered by global warming, particularly in the Arctic, as follows:
  • As more ice melts away on Greenland and more water runs off into the sea, there is less weight on the Earth’s crust under Greenland. The crust and mantle can bounce back during a large melt, an effect that is called 'isostatic rebound'. This rebound can not only trigger earthquakes and landslides, it can also suck up the magma in the Earth’s crust to the surface and trigger volcanic eruptions.
  • The added weight of water from melting glaciers stresses the Earth’s crust underneath the sea, which can cause earthquakes. This is especially the case for coastal waters, where the impact of the water that flows into the sea is huge, not only in terms of weight, but also in terms of the currents they cause.
  • As the permafrost melts, mountain ranges, soil and submarine sediments all become less robust. Where the permafrost previously held things together, we can now expect more coastal collapse, avalanches and landslides, which can send shockwaves through the sea that in turn trigger earthquakes and hydrate destabilization.
  • Methane hydrates that are on the edge of stabilization can be disturbed by global warming in two additional ways, temperature and pressure: Warming of the Earth's crust as heat penetrates sediments on the seafloor. Thermal expansion of the Earth's crust means that the crust will expand slightly in volume, resulting in expansion of the cavity that holds the hydrates.
  • Finally, there's the additional impact of methane itself. Permafrost previously kept methane stable in sediments. Methane converting from hydrates into free gas will expand some 160 times in volume; this explosive process can trigger further destabilization. Once released into the atmosphere, the methane has a huge local warming potential, adding to the threat that further methane releases will occur locally.   

Back in 2006, Bill McGuire said: "A particular worry is that this in turn will contribute to large-scale releases of methane gas from the solid gas hydrate deposits that are trapped in marine sediments. Gas hydrates have been identified around the margins of all the ocean basins, and outbursts of gas may occur as sea temperatures climb or as rising sea levels trigger underwater quakes in the vicinity."

For more than a decade, Malcolm Light, contributor to the Arctic-news blog, has been warning about the danger of methane hydrate destabilization due to earthquakes (see the poster at the bottom of the page on seismic activity).

With this in mind, let's take a look at a picture of Earth.
September 13, 2013, 3am - Sep 14, 2013 1am    [ click on image to enlarge ]
The large number of yellow spots in the top left corner are related to the flooding in the Basin of the Amur River (Heilong Jiang). Such extreme weather events are becoming ever more prominent, due to global warming and the feedbacks such as methane releases. Similarly, extreme weather events such as droughts and heatwaves lead to wildfires that also produce large amounts of methane.

The image only shows the Northern Hemisphere, but on the Southern Hemisphere, high levels of methane have been recorded for a long time on Antarctica. While huge amounts of snow fall on Antartica, the amount of snow and ice that melts each year is even larger, widening the difference between the weight the snow and ice exercize between periods. This difference in weight could similarly cause rebounds of the Earth's crust, sucking up the magma and causing methane hydrates to be destabilized, as described in the earlier post Antarctic methane peaks at 2249 ppb.

The image also shows fault lines. Several yellow spots are present on the fault line over the Arctic, including some that point at the coast of Norway; they appear to be caused by seismic activity along the fault line, as discussed in the recent post Methane reaches 2571 ppb.

Meanwhile, methane readings peaked at 2416 ppb on September 14, 2013. Very worrying are also the high methane readings close to the Gakkel Ridge, the fault line at the center of the Arctic Ocean, and the spots closer to the Laptev Sea.

Finally, there are high readings along the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The islands, with their 57 volcanoes, are in the northern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and they have experienced a lot of seismic activity lately, including an earthquake with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale on August 30, 2013, and several more recent earthquakes with a higher magnitude than 6 on the Richter scale.

[Editor: The images below, added September 24 and 26, 2013, show high methane releases at a spot just north of Greenland that was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.5 on the Richter scale on September 1, 2013, as also discussed in the post Methane reaches 2571 ppb. The two bottom images also show the magnitude 5 earthquake that hit Russia on September 24, 2013.]

September 20, 2013, 11am - Sep 22, 2013 3pm    [ click on image to enlarge ]

Sept. 25, 2013 am - the orange spot just north of Greenland indicates a recent earthquake [ click on image to enlarge ]

Map specifying details of two recent earthquakes. Size of spots indicating earthquakes on the map is relative

Adapted from:
- Methane Release caused by Earthquakes

Methane, Faults and Sea Ice

The animation below illustrates links between:
  • The fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean and forms the boundery between two tectonic plates (i.e. the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate)
  • Arctic sea ice, which until now has acted as a shield
  • The prominence of high methane readings over the Arctic Ocean
[ this animation is a 1.67 MB file that may take some time to fully load ]
Above animation illustrates high methane readings (1950 ppb and higher, in yellow) prominently showing up within the bounderies of the sea ice, and especially along the Gakkel Ridge and Laptev Sea Rift parts of the fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean.

- Methane, Faults and Sea Ice


- Earthquake east of Greenland triggers methane releases

- High Methane Levels Follow Earthquake in Arctic Ocean

- Something had to give - Baffin Island hit by M4.6 earthquake

- U.S. hit by numerous earthquakes?

- M5.1 Earthquake hits Greenland Sea

- M4.4 Earthquake hits Arctic Ocean (north of Greenland)

- Earthquakes in the Arctic Ocean

- Methane, Faults and Sea Ice

- Norwegian Sea hit by 4.6M Earthquake

- Greenland Sea hit by M5.3 Earthquake

- Earthquake hits waters off Japan

- Earthquake hits Laptev Sea

- Methane Release caused by Earthquakes

- Earthquake M6.7 hits Sea of Okhotsk

- Sea of Okhotsk

- Is Global Warming breaking up the Integrity of the Permafrost?

- Methane linked to Seismic Activity in the Arctic (September 27, 2011)

- Climate Plan

1 comment:

  1. The Climate Plan calls for comprehensive action through multiple lines of action implemented across the world and in parallel, through effective policies such as local feebates. The Climate Plan calls for a global commitment to act, combined with implementation that is preferably local. In other words, while the Climate Plan calls for a global commitment to take comprehensive and effective action to reduce the danger of catastrophic climate change, and while it recommends specific policies and approaches how best to achieve this, it invites local communities to decide what each works best for them, provided they do indeed make the progress necessary to reach agreed targets. This makes that the Climate Plan optimizes flexibility for local communities and optimizes local job and investment opportunities.

    Click for more on multiple lines of action, on recommended policies, and on the advantages of feebates.