Was the 2010 Haiti Earthquake triggered by deforestation and the 2008 hurricanes?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:57 PM GMT on December 20, 2010

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Major earthquakes occur when the stress on rocks between two tectonic plates reaches a critical breaking point, allowing the earth to move along the connecting fault. While the slow creep of the tectonic plates makes earthquakes inevitable along major faults, the timing and exact location of the quake epicenter can be influenced by outside forces pushing down on Earth's crust. For example, the sloshing of water into the Eastern Pacific during El Niño events has been linked to magnitude 4, 5, and 6 earthquakes on the seafloor below, due to the extra weight of water caused by local sea level rise. Sea level rise due to rapid melting of Earth's ice sheets could also potentially trigger earthquakes, though it is unknown at what melting rate such an effect might become significant.


Figure 1. Google Earth image of Haiti taken November 8, 2010, showing the capital of Port-Au-Prince and the mountainous region to its west where the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake was. Note the brown color of the mountains, where all the vegetation has been stripped off, leaving bare slopes subject to extreme erosion. Heavy rains in recent years have washed huge amounts of sediment into the Leogane Delta to the north.


Figure 2. Zoom-in view of the Leogane Delta region of Figure 1, showing the large expansion in the Delta's area between 2002 and 2010. High amounts of sediments have been eroded from Haiti's deforested mountains and deposited in the Delta. Recent expansion of the river channel due to runoff from Hurricane Tomas' rains is apparent in the 2010 image. Image credit: Google Earth, Digital Globe, GeoEye.

At last week's American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting last week in San Francisco, Shimon Wdowinsky of the University of Miami proposed a different method whereby unusual strains on the crust might trigger an earthquake. In a talk titled, Triggering of the 2010 Haiti earthquake by hurricanes and possibly deforestation , Wdowinsky studied the stresses on Earth's crust over the epicenter of the mighty January 12, 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed over 200,000 people. This quake was centered in a mountainous area of southwest Haiti that has undergone severe deforestation—over 98% of the trees have been felled on the mountain in recent decades, allowing extreme erosion to occur during Haiti's frequent heavy rainfall events. Since 1975, the erosion rate in these mountains has been 6 mm/year, compared to the typical erosion rate of less than 1 mm/yr in forested tropical mountains. Satellite imagery (Figure 2) reveals that the eroded material has built up significantly in the Leogane Delta to the north of the earthquake's epicenter. In the 2008 hurricane season, four storms--Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike--dumped heavy rains on the impoverished nation. The bare, rugged hillsides let flood waters rampage into large areas of the country, killing over 1,000, destroying 22,702 homes, and damaging another 84,625. About 800,000 people were affected--8% of Haiti's total population. The flood wiped out 70% of Haiti's crops, resulting in dozens of deaths of children due to malnutrition in the months following the storms. Damage was estimated at over $1 billion, the costliest natural disaster in Haitian history. The damage amounted to over 5% of the country's $17 billion GDP, a staggering blow for a nation so poor. Tragically, the hurricanes of 2008 may have set up Haiti for an ever larger disaster. Wdowinsky computed that the amount of mass eroded away from the mountains over the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake was sufficient to cause crustal strains capable of causing a vertically-oriented slippage along a previously unknown fault. This type of motion is quite unusual in this region, as most quakes in Haiti tend to be of the strike-slip variety, where the tectonic plates slide horizontally past each other. The fact that the 2010 Haiti quake occurred along a vertically moving fault lends support to the idea that the slippage was triggered due to mass stripped off the mountains by erosion over the epicenter, combined with the extra weight of the extra sediment deposited in the Leogane Delta clamping down on the northern portion of the fault. Wdowinsky gave two other examples in Taiwan where earthquakes followed several months after the passage of tropical cyclones that dumped heavy rains over mountainous regions. His theory of tropical cyclone-triggered quakes deserves consideration, and provides another excellent reason to curb excessive deforestation!


Figure 3. Two of 2008's four tropical cyclones that ravaged Haiti: Tropical Storm Hanna (right) and Hurricane Gustav (left). Image taken at 10:40 am EDT September 1, 2008. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Christmas in Haiti
Portlight.org will brighten the lives of hundreds of kids in Haiti this week, thanks to their successful Christmas in Haiti fundraiser. Portlight raised $1800 to buy toys, candies, and other assorted goodies. The shipment left Charleston last week, and will arrive in time for Christmas. Thanks to everyone who helped support this worthy effort!

Jeff Masters

Stuff for Haiti (Portlight)
Stuff for Haiti
Ms. Mae (Portlight)
Ms. Mae

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guys what the hell is going on in the tropics

I come walking into work Hopped onto the computer and found 95L in the atlantic IN THE WEEK OF CHRISTMAS
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And 6 of those new "high min records" were also ties...

"...Thanks to the cold snap in the east, over the past week record lows/low maximums in the CONUS have outnumbered record highs/high minimums by 1253 to 693, or about 1.8 to 1..."

Kinda makes one wonder what the score would be if all the ties were taken out of the mix.
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 289 Comments: 1639
AL, 95, 2010122106, 123N, 575W, 25,1008, LO
AL, 95, 2010122112, 130N, 588W, 20, 1008, LO
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Quoting Neapolitan:
HAMweather says there have been no record lows set in the CONUS in the past 24 hours, and only 2 record low maximums. Meanwhile, there were 7 high temp records set in that time same span, and 55 record high minimums. Almost all of the records can be attributed to the moist and relatively warm air being pumped into the southwest. (Thanks to the cold snap in the east, over the past week record lows/low maximums in the CONUS have outnumbered record highs/high minimums by 1253 to 693, or about 1.8 to 1)

The sky was crystal, and the eclipse was awesome as they always are.


Still wonder how you can call a temp a "record high" when it MATCHES the old record.

TX Anson Mon, 20 Dec 2010

New "record": 76
Old record: 76 in 1978
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 289 Comments: 1639
HAMweather says there have been no record lows set in the CONUS in the past 24 hours, and only 2 record low maximums. Meanwhile, there were 7 high temp records set in that time same span, and 55 record high minimums. Almost all of the records can be attributed to the moist and relatively warm air being pumped into the southwest. (Thanks to the cold snap in the east, over the past week record lows/low maximums in the CONUS have outnumbered record highs/high minimums by 1253 to 693, or about 1.8 to 1)

The sky was crystal, and the eclipse was awesome as they always are.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13790
Also, the first tropical storm of the Central Pacific has formed yesterday, Tropical Storm Omeka, really late in the season.
But it has turned extratropical already.
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...SPECIAL FEATURE...

A 1009 MB LOW PRESSURE CENTER IS NEAR 12N57W...ABOUT 140 NM
TO THE EAST-SOUTHEAST OF BARBADOS. A SURFACE TROUGH EXTENDS
FROM 13N38W TO 13N50W...CURVING TO THE LOW CENTER...TO 8N60W
NEAR THE COASTS OF VENEZUELA AND NORTHERN GUYANA. RAINSHOWERS
ARE WITHIN A 30 NM RADIUS OF 12N58W. OTHER DISORGANIZED
ISOLATED TO WIDELY SCATTERED MODERATE RAINSHOWERS AND POSSIBLE
THUNDERSTORMS ARE FROM 10N TO 17N BETWEEN 48W AND 55W.
DISORGANIZED ISOLATED MODERATE RAINSHOWERS ARE ALSO FROM 10N
TO 16N BETWEEN 36W AND 47W. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THIS SYSTEM
MAY BECOME A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.
THIS SYSTEM WILL BRING LOCALLY HEAVY RAINFALL AND GUSTY WINDS
TO MUCH OF THE LESSER ANTILLES DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO EVEN
IF IT NEVER DEVELOPS INTO A TROPICAL CYCLONE.
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Good Morning, Very nice veiwing of the moon last night
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Wow, cant believe I slept through the eclipse....:(
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Quoting Skyepony:
ASCAT caught 95L

It's got a pretty good rotation on visible Satellite as well. Not much convection this morning though
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From the Miami NWS Discussion

ONE THING IS CERTAIN, LAST WEEK OF
THE YEAR IS GOING TO BE COLD.

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511. Skyepony (Mod)
Vietnam says strong winds have left five people dead and 51 others missing in the South China Sea, off the country's coast. The government's disaster agency says the winds triggered by a cold spell caused 22 fishing vessels and a container ship to capsize between Thursday and Sunday. It says three sailors from the container ship and 155 fishermen were rescued. The agency said in a statement Tuesday that rescuers are searching for the missing, which include 23 sailors from the Vietnamese container ship and 28 local fishermen from three fishing vessels. Vietnam is prone to floods and storms that kill hundreds of people a year.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 222 Comments: 39356
Quoting RitaEvac:


Were getting to a point where jobs aren't needed anymore, everything is automated, cars are gonna drive on their own, probably do maint. to itself, people dont need 40 hr work week anymore. Computer jobs sitting at desk can be done at home. And there's not gonna be a frikin economy anymore! that would put the rich and poor on the same level. So they gotta make things up and keep trying to throw money at something to keep an economy. Sooooo, let's make up GW and that way it will provide laws and jobs and a new world order, new green world. That way the rich get richer and have control. And the economy keeps pumping out money to keep our little world going round so we feel safe and warm when we go to bed at night.


Huh? Going green would actually be the opposite of everything you just said: less products, less economic control, less products, less etc.. It is just quality of life over quantity of material.
Member Since: June 5, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1220
Quoting DoverWxwatchter:
Interesting how even at the center of totality the moon was brighter on one side. It seems like one of the brighter total lunar eclipses I have seen.


Yeah, noticed that too. I believe the experts were predicting a relatively bright eclipse this time.
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Well, what do we have here? 95L?!?!

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Eclipse near Totality, 15 ago

Uptown NOLA

Captureview Binocular Cam



...earlier,halfway there.



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Quoting DontAnnoyMe:


Clouds in the previous image may not be as thick as they appear in some places though. I'm in Central NC and the moon is, as they say, in and out.



Miraculously, the skies cleared and the view is awesome! It's a dark orange here.
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The total eclipse of the moon is swesome here over Arlington, TX at 1:40 AM CST :0)!!
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Really red now, almost there.
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Quoting reedzone:


Great verse, but that's not till after the rapture and chaos. However, something is going to make the moon blood red for years in that time.. Tonight is a sample of things to come ;)

I know, keep watch though {-:
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Quoting TampaFLUSA:
Revelation 6:12 NKJV

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.


Great verse, but that's not till after the rapture and chaos. However, something is going to make the moon blood red for years in that time.. Tonight is a sample of things to come ;)
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Revelation 6:12 NKJV

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.
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497. Skyepony (Mod)
Looks like the moonys are full force in wunderphotos..
Here's Luner moon~ uploaded by Daesania in Brandon, FL.
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496. flsky
Quoting Skyepony:
it's began

Yep! Just went out to look and there's a bite out! Anyone getting some pics?
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2110
495. flsky
Quoting JensenBeach:


45 miles north of West Palm. AKA Martin County, Stuart, Fl

Oh, ok. I drove thru Stuart a couple of years ago. Charming place.
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494. Skyepony (Mod)
it's began
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 222 Comments: 39356
Quoting flsky:

Remind me where Jensen Beach is?


45 miles north of West Palm. AKA Martin County, Stuart, Fl
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492. flsky
Quoting Skyepony:


Now that is a shame..

I face westward over the Halifax River and my hope is that the eclipse will happen at a time when it will reflect on the river. A "normal" full moon is breath-taking at this perspective and I'd love to see this "red moon" reflected there as well. Nature is such a gift!
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2110
491. flsky
Quoting DoverWxwatchter:


I am :)

Yep. ECF reporting in here!
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490. flsky
Quoting JensenBeach:
In Jensen Beach Fl the sky is 100% clear, the moon is overhead and so bright you can read a newspaper by it. This should be interesting tonight.

Remind me where Jensen Beach is?
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2110
489. flsky
Quoting Skyepony:
fisky~ I tried taking pics through the telescope..that's not really gonna work out with my camera..which doesn't usually take great shots of the moon.

I'm in Melbourne, FL. Your pretty near there?

Taking pics of this sort of thing is pretty specialized and needs the right sort of equipment, I expect. I'm in Daytona Beach Shores, so not too far north!
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2110
In Jensen Beach Fl the sky is 100% clear, the moon is overhead and so bright you can read a newspaper by it. This should be interesting tonight.
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486. Skyepony (Mod)
I've got the moon filter on the telescope. I'm not working with that great a camera.. I'll go play around with it a little more.
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Quoting DoverWxwatchter:


I am :)


Hey out of curiosity, do you live in Dover Florida?
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Quoting Skyepony:
fisky~ I tried taking pics through the telescope..that's not really gonna work out with my camera..which doesn't usually take great shots of the moon.

I'm in Melbourne, FL. Your pretty near there?


Skye, ya gotta have the filter on it. It is a requirement or it doesn't work. From experience. A song from the Eclipse :)

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Anyone up for the eclipse?
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481. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting flsky:

Um. Pointing at the eclipse??


I think pointing at 95L
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 222 Comments: 39356
480. Skyepony (Mod)
fisky~ I tried taking pics through the telescope..that's not really gonna work out with my camera..which doesn't usually take great shots of the moon.

I'm in Melbourne, FL. Your pretty near there?
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 222 Comments: 39356
Quoting Skyepony:


Now that is a shame..


Clouds in the previous image may not be as thick as they appear in some places though. I'm in Central NC and the moon is, as they say, in and out.

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478. flsky
Quoting JRRP:

Um. Pointing at the eclipse??
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2110
477. Skyepony (Mod)
ASCAT caught 95L

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 222 Comments: 39356
476. flsky
Quoting Skyepony:
Glad to see I'm not the only one up partaking, waiting for the eclipse..

Fisky~ we are in for a treat of a view with this weather.

Telescope is set up, gonna start a fire soon.

Is your telescope one that can take pics? Where are you located so that you're not cloud-covered?
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2110

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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