Can climate change cause earthquakes ?

There is growing concern of the possibility of a link between earthquakes and intense weather.

On September 6, 2018 a magnitude-6.6 quake struck the northern island of Hokkaido, Hokkaido is in northern Japan, and this earthquake followed shortly after Typhoon Jebi which hit western japan in the Tokushima prefecture on Sept 4th.  An aftershock While these locations are separated by considerable distance, the rapid rate of natural disasters are overwhelming emergency response mechanism. Unfortunately this dynamic is becoming more and more common, and not just effecting 3rd world countries anymore.

The first significant instance of an earthquake following heavy rainfall was in 2017, when hurricane Harvey hit the south eastern united states in Texas and obliterated much of Puerto Rico along the way. Hurricane Harvey had dissipated on September 2, 2017 and on on September 8th, 2017 a magnitude of 8.1 earthquake struck southern Mexico. A magnitude 7.1 aftershock struck Mexico city a few days later on September 19th.

Most people assumed these incidents were not related, though it was reported not long after that 275 trillion pounds of water from Hurricane Harvey deformed the ground in Texas Pushed the Earth’s Crust Down 2 Centimetres. It will be interesting to see if any similar claims are made for typhoon Jebi.

Considering this has happened over 2 consecutive years, it would seem to indicate that at least one the tipping points of climate change has been reached, some suspect it could be a signal indicating that we have already reached 1c warming and that assuming it would take until 2100 to see 2c warming was an extremely conservative projection. This is due to the way global warming can affect the water cycle, in essence it allows the atmosphere to hold 7-10% more water per degree Celsius temperature rise because it does not follow a linear curve. It may not seem like a lot until you consider how massive clouds are. However changes in rainfall have been larger than that.

The following information is based on the US because I do not know where to get this information in other langauges, and also becaue the US was supposed to expirience the lowest amount of change due to climate chage. So any changes here will be much larger in other areas around the earth. In the midwest US, which is very far from any coastal weather. Since the 1950s, the amount of rain falling in the heaviest storms has increased by 31 percent in the Midwest. Evidence that extreme precipitation is increasing is based primarily on this report which contains this graphic:
Inceases in percipitation in US to 2007

Similar information is availible via this report which has this grapic:
US exteme precipitation and general percipitation

However there is a wrinkle in the Japanese situation that makes this link harder to determine, and that is the extensive use of sodium iodide for a process called “cloud seeding” by their neighbour china for agricultural purposes. This is a form of geo-engineering utilized to deal with the effects of climate change, and the side effects are unclear. Other geo-engineering projects have been suggested, such as generating Stratospheric aerosols, but again, research is limited. Due to confounding factors like this, it is difficult to make a direct link to the rainfall and climate change, though it is undoubted that the drive for cloud seeding is a direct response to climate change.  Also, china started it’s cloud seeding processes in 2008. Due to the lack of information on the size and scope of the utilization of sodium iodide it is impossible to determine its impact on cloud formation in the region.

The only concrete conclusions that can be drawn from this is that, the longer it takes to implement measures to mitigate climate change, the more exponentially expensive it will become to deal with the symptoms. On the fringe there is a belief that, if disruptive measures to deal with climate change are not undertaken by international cooperation, it may overwhelm the ability for societies to recover from natural disasters in the long term. One such hypothetical scenario is that it could get to the point where it takes longer than a year to repair the damage caused in a year, by recurring natural disasters. Given how much of global manufacturing capacity is in areas that are vulnerable to climate change (southeast asia), these disruptions could have serious effects on global supply chains. How civilization will cope with the onslaught of effects of climate change is anyones guess. But there is a good reason it is considered by most of the scientific community, to be an existential risk. The Paris agreement set the goal of increasing renewables in the energy mix by 2% per year globally, however it took the US 5 years to increase its renewables to 2%, between 2011 and 2016. In china, which is the largest producer of Solar and Wind, has a combination of solar and wind totalling 5% of its energy generation as of 2016. That is after 8 years of being the world leader in solar/wind installations.  There are many claims of 30-40% increases of renewable deployments in china, however that is 30-40% of 200mw, More to the point, the coal generating capacity has been increasing 3-4% per year, however that is 3-4% of  946,244 MW, these distortions are so they can maintain a green image despite also being a world leader by far in coal power deployment. When graphed, the discrepency looks like this:
Electricity_Production_in_China

Solar is that green line at the bottom. It does only go up to 2014, after checking with the China Energy Portal has the following statics for June 2018.

CEC-2017-Mix-update-June-2018

Solar is not the yellow portion of the graph, that’s nuclear. Solar is the ornage slice, its 1/3rd the size of wind for a grand total of and 01.86% of total power generated in china. We can be generous and round that up to 2%.

This highlights  the scaling issues of solar. Despite the fact that Solar+Wind generation capacity makes up 13% of china’s power generating capacity, solar+wind only accounts for 6% of power that is actually generated.  So there is a lot of doubt as to the manufacturing capacity to produce solar as well as issues scaling it up, due to what is known as the “duck curve”  Which fortunately is not an issue with wind power deployments. Though wind has other intermittency issues. They are far more manageable.

China is a case study, not only in scaling solar and wind, but also hype cycles powered by lying with statistics and the dangers of over-confidence this can generate. Especially in dealing with issues as grave as climate change by focusing on  solutions that are unworkable in the long term, such as geo-engineering with Stratospheric aerosols. That is to say nothing of the amount of difficulty faced by sceptics of utility scale PV, though there is still promise in concentrated solar,  which is far different from residential solar PV. I still whole heartedly support residential solar and other distributed solar projects in the face of all of this, however I do not believe Solar PV is a solution for utility scale power generation.

It is these dynamics that are triggering a renaissance in newer generations of nuclear reactors with higher safety profiles, that use salts for coolant instead of high pressure water. Typically referred to as MSR or “Molten salt reactors”,  China is leading development of Uranium fuelled MSRs,  however there is another technology which is experiencing a resurgence of interest, due to an even higher safety profile combined with waste that does not have the storage requirements of Uranium reactors. They are known as Thorium reactors, due to operating at lower temperatures than Uranium MSRs, they are meltdown proof and do not require being located near large water sources, because they have the capability of having an entirely closed cycle. Whereas Uranium MSRs still need to be located near large bodies of water and are unsuitable for inland deployment.  Recent projects have been launched in Ontario Canada, South Korea,  Denmark , London, England 

Mitigating climate change is a daunting task, and the solutions may not always fit the traditional mould of what is considered green energy.  Some people worry that using nuclear reactors would re-create the inequalities created by traditional fossil fuels due to the historically centralized designs. However, with SMRs (small modular reactors) There are even more advantages. By distributing a lot of smaller reactors instead of a few large reactors, any accident that could occur would be small and due to the low pressure and lower heat, would not emit any radiation into the atmosphere or ground contamination even under full meltdown conditions. On top of that, transmission losses, from sending electricity long distances, are vastly reduced. At the same time, the lower per-unit price (the modular part) means that municipalities and state governments can afford them, instead of a few monolithic power companies. This enables the decentralised, distributed nature of solar and wind. The modular nature means that multiple modules can be wired together to grow energy production as needs arise instead of making huge investments and then wait for demand to catch up. The fully closed loop designs also mean unlike legacy reactors, MSR’s do not need to be placed near large water sources for cooling water, so they can be placed far inland and in remote areas. This is especially important when considering that climate change will primarily affect all the coasts all over the world. It will be very difficult to convince people that by commissioning newer reactors while decommissioning older reactors will be the surest way to prevent another Fukashima from happening again. Japan may be one of the first nations that will have to come to grips with this reality.

 

Kansai International Airport is partly inundated following a powerful typhoon in Izumisano, in Japan's Osaka prefecture.

Kansai International Airport is partly inundated following  typhoon Jebi in Izumisano, in Japan’s Osaka prefecture.

High waves hit breakwaters at a port in Aki, Kochi prefecture, in western Japan.

 High waves hit breakwaters at a port in Aki, Kochi prefecture, in western Japan during typhoon Jebi.

Photo taken Sept. 6, 2018, from a Kyodo News airplane shows the site of a landslide in Atsuma, Hokkaido, northern Japan, triggered by an earthquake with preliminary magnitude of 6.7 that struck the region.

More than 150 people were injured by the quake, mostly in Sapporo, said Kazuya Isaki, an official with the Crisis Management Office of Hokkaido Prefecture Government. Dozens of people are missing in Atsuma, near the epicenter of the quake, where four of the deaths occurred.

Police search for missing persons around a house destroyed by a landslide after a powerful earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that flights and public transport across the region had been brought to a standstill.
Nearly 3 million households lost power, according to the Hokkaido Electric Power Company. Officials said a main power station lost operations, affecting other sites. Independently owned power generators were assisting.

In this aerial image, houses are buried by multiple landslides after a powerful earthquake jolt on September 6, 2018 in Atsuma, Hokkaido, Japan.

“The electric supply was stopped to Tomari nuclear plant, but it can operate without external electric supply for one week,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Risk of aftershocks

The powerful quake lasted almost a minute, jolting residents from their beds and collapsing roads.
Near the epicenter, landslides wiped out houses in the tiny town of Atsuma, home to 40 residents. Officials said multiple people were still missing hours after the initial quake.

A rescue operation is conducted at a house destroyed by a landslide after a powerful earthquake on September 6, 2018 in Atsuma, Hokkaido, Japan.

Photos from Sapporo, Hokkaido’s main city on the western part of the island, showed huge cracks in the street and subsided houses.
More than 4,000 defense force soldiers have been deployed to help with rescue operations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, and that number could rise to 25,000 if needed.

This picture shows an aerial view of houses damaged by a landslide in Atsuma town, Hokkaido prefecture on September 6, 2018, after an earthquake hit the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Helicopter rescue crews were also dispatched and have airlifted around a dozen people to safety. Evacuation shelters have been set up in many towns and cities around the region.
Aftershocks were continuing Thursday morning, and could pose a risk for the next week, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which warned residents of the increased risk that buildings could collapse near the epicenter of the original quake.

A car is seen stuck on a road damaged by an earthquake in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture on September 6, 2018.

 

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