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Does Wednesday earthquake in India have a link with the predicted El Nino?


Posted on Thursday May 22, 2014

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  Earthquake, El Nino, Climate Change

Though the reason behind the earthquake occurred 40 km off India's Paradip coast in Odisha is yet to be studied and revealed, it may have a relation with the El Nino phenomenon that is predicted to develop this year in the Indian Ocean, as some observations suggest.

Basudev Mahapatra

The tremors of an earthquake felt in Odisha and parts of northern and eastern India Wednesday evening panicked people for a while who rushed out of their home and gathered on roads and open places. Several are also reported injured as they, being panic gripped, jumped down their terrace to escape the worse effects of the earthquake.

As per immediate bulletin released by India meteorological Department (IMD), the earthquake of moderate intensity with a magnitude of 6.0 on the Richter scale occurred at 9.52 PM on 21st May, 2014, with its epicentre at Latitude 18.3 degree North and Longitude 87.9 degree East, about 40 KM off Paradip coast in the Bay of Bengal, over 300 KM Southeast of Bhubaneswar. However, there is no tsunami or other alert issued by the IMD.

Even though the reason behind such seismic event is yet to be studied and revealed, it may have a relation with the El Nino phenomenon that is predicted to develop this year in the Indian Ocean, as some observations suggest.

In one of his recent articles in the Environmental Science, Cutler J. Cleveland, Professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University, talks about the correlation saying, “El Niņo events can be triggered by a large thermal input that raises sea surface temperatures. These thermal inputs can be driven by the normal pattern of oceanic circulation. Nonlinear and stochastic elements in the pattern of oceanic circulation cause variations in the rate at which heat accumulates and dissipates in various portions of the ocean.”

Presenting the findings of a geophysicist Daniel A. Walker, Cleveland mentions in his article El Niņo: A Link among Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Crustal Circulation, “Walker noticed an interesting pattern: Months with the greatest number of earthquakes or months with earthquakes that release the greatest amount of energy precede the onset of El Niņo events. This hints at a relationship between seismic activity and El Niņo events.”

Walker, as quoted by the New York Times, reaches such a logical conclusion after studying the occurrence of seismic and extreme weather events over 285 months ending in September 1987. During the study, Walker found a striking coincidence between the extent of strain release by earthquakes along the East Pacific Rise and the recurrence of El Ninos every five to seven years.

The correlation is also supported in a paper titled “Statistical analysis of the El Niņo-Southern Oscillation and sea-floor seismicity in the eastern tropical Pacific,” prepared by Serge Guillas, Simon J. Day, and B. McGuire of Statistical Science, Earth Science and Hazard Research Centre respectively of the University College London.

While presenting statistical evidence for a temporal link between variations in the El Niņo-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the occurrence of earthquakes on the East Pacific Rise (EPR), the authors note in the abstract of the paper that “We adopt a zero-inflated Poisson regression model to represent the relationship between the number of earthquakes in the Easter microplate on the EPR and ENSO (expressed using the southern oscillation index (SOI) for east Pacific sea-level pressure anomalies) from February 1973 to February 2009. We also examine the relationship between the numbers of earthquakes and sea levels, as retrieved by Topex/Poseidon from October 1992 to July 2002. We observe a significant (95% confidence level) positive influence of SOI on seismicity.”

While it seems quite logical to correlate the recent seismic event with the predicted El Nino in the Indian Ocean, the seismologists and geography experts are to confirm if they are really related and if the earthquake is an evidential event in support of development of the predicted extreme weather phenomenon in the Indian Ocean.

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