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article imageEssential Science: Stormquakes found in powerful oceanic storms

By Tim Sandle     Dec 2, 2019 in Science
You’ll have heard of earthquakes and hurricanes. Now, how about stormquakes? These powerful oceanic events are set to be categorized as a new meteorological phenomenon, based on new research centered on the U.S. coastline.
Powerful hurricanes that create oceanic storms might have a new category, under circumstances where wave energy stakes the seafloor with great ferocity. When the force is sufficiently powerful, this could produce a new type of quake: stormquake.
The presence of stormquakes has been identified by Dr. Wenyuan Fan of Florida State University. His research group has characterized a new type of interaction between Earth’s atmosphere, ocean and crust.
What are stormquakes?
It’s perhaps easier to begin by saying what stormaquakes are not. Stormquakes are different to earthquakes, with an earthquake being triggered by subsurface shifting within the solid Earth. In contrast, stormquakes are ocean waves thrown up by especially powerful hurricanes (or Nor'easters, description of a storm along the East Coast of North America). The weather events naturally produce waves and these waves then “interact” in some places with solid earth under the sea to cause intense seismic source activity. Hence, under special conditions, the constant sloshing of ocean waves produces seismic waves. These waves have an acoustic signal, producing high-frequency signals called microseisms (a faint earth tremor caused by natural phenomena).
Hurricane Florence  Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Helene swirl in the Atlantic Ocean in this im...
Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Helene swirl in the Atlantic Ocean in this image captured by the GOES-East weather satellite on Sept. 11, 2018, at 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT).
Stormquakes are equivalent to an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.5, not so powerful on land but significant enough to whip up larger waves at sea.
How are stormquakes produced?
The stormquake is the product of long‐period ocean waves interacting with shallow seafloor features, located near the edge of continental shelves (or ocean banks).
Hurricane Bonnie made landfall in North Carolina  United States  inflicting severe crop damage. The ...
Hurricane Bonnie made landfall in North Carolina, United States, inflicting severe crop damage. The second named storm, first hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season
To produce conclusive proof of the existence of stormquakes, the U.S. researchers analyzed ten years (2006–2015) of continuous vertical-component long-period 14 channel seismic data recorded by stations spanning the whole U.S. continent. Over this period, some 14,000 stormquakes were assessed.
These events only occurred during winter months. Given that earthquakes do not have seasonality, this aspect triggered Dr. Fan to launch is research project and to explore these newly identified weather events.
The analysis also found that major U.S. hurricanes had produced a high number of stormquakes. One example was Hurricane Bill, a storm that formed 10 years ago in the Atlantic Ocean, causing numerous seismic events.
Research significance
Stormquakes are not simply a new quake of interest. The researchers hope that by studying stormquakes, new information that can be used to investigate the Earth structure and ocean wave dynamic can be generated.
The use of such data extends from deciphering the Earth’s inner structure to tracking ocean or ice dynamics; and even monitoring the effects of climate change.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The research paper is simply titled “Stormquakes.”
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue.
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National Institutes of Health
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