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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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?
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475. JRRP
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5079
474. flsky
Quoting DontAnnoyMe:
Not many in the US are going to see this one.


Right. No hope of any of the clouded areas clearing up beforehand?
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473. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting DontAnnoyMe:
Not many in the US are going to see this one.



Now that is a shame..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36074
472. Skyepony (Mod)
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.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36074
Not many in the US are going to see this one.

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Quoting JRRP:
se ve la sombra en la luna


The Shadow of the day, or night? :)

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469. flsky
Quoting JFLORIDA:
I posted some links to live cams of the eclipse in LowerCal's blog.

Lovely.
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467. JRRP
corpse 95L

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5079
466. JRRP
se ve la sombra en la luna
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5079
Interesting post Dr. Masters. There remains alot left to know about our planet.
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464. flsky
Quoting sunlinepr:
For those of you interested, Opportunity Mars Rover reached that tiny crater called by NASA "Santa Maria".... Here is the map, and two photos (L/R views) of it... In a couple of months, that rover will reach Endeavour Crater (That Huge, inmense crater East). In the Right SMaria crater photo, you can see the Endeavour Rim far away.... Photos will be spectacular....For all photos link here

Link







Gnite All, enjoy the Eclipse

Incredible pics. Thanks!
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For those of you interested, Opportunity Mars Rover reached that tiny crater called by NASA "Santa Maria".... Here is the map, and two photos (L/R views) of it... In a couple of months, that rover will reach Endeavour Crater (That Huge, inmense crater East). In the Right SMaria crater photo, you can see the Endeavour Rim far away.... Photos will be spectacular....For all photos link here

Link







Gnite All, enjoy the Eclipse
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462. flsky
Quoting DoverWxwatchter:


Gatwick got down to 12. However, it has been much colder in London. London has been down to -5 F twice in 18th century.

Belfast and Edinburgh both came very close to all time record lows last week. Belfast's record low is 9 F (-12.8 C)

This site is updated for extremes around the world, and has been vouched for by Christopher Burt (weatherhistorian here)

And now Belfast has reached a new all time low. They are now at 6.8 F (-14.0 C)

Isn't it great on this site that we can get up-to-the-moment updates on weather around the world!
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461. flsky
Quoting Grothar:


Tired. I've never tippled. Going to stay up for the show?

Well, try to stay up if you can. Tippling is less than gulping, but can lead to the same end. Yep - I'm a night owl anyway, so I'll be awake.
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Good evening! I just compiled another blog entry for Tropical Storm Omeka. Take a look!

I considered doing one for 95L, but I don't think conditions really support development. I feel it will fizzle without incident.
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Quoting flsky:

Great, thanks. Doing a bit o tippling. so feeling good and looking forward to the eclipse. How're you?


Tired. I've never tippled. Going to stay up for the show?
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457. flsky
Quoting Ossqss:


LoL, your song ? Gnight all. Set that alarm if you are interested in event. :)



Thanks for this. The only time I've heard this before is for some battery commercial or another.
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Quoting Grothar:


I did, it's set for 9:30.


Set it to 3 so you can see it lol
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting Grothar:
I'm not going to stay up for the eclipse. I'll wait until the next one in 2094, should be a bit earlier than this one.


LoL, your song ? Gnight all. Set that alarm if you are interested in the event. :)


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454. flsky
Quoting Grothar:


I see the night shift is in full swing. How you doing sky?

Great, thanks. Doing a bit o tippling. so feeling good and looking forward to the eclipse. How're you?
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Quoting caneswatch:


Set your alarm like i'm doing lol


I did, it's set for 9:30.
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Quoting flsky:

I'm sure you'll be there!


I see the night shift is in full swing. How you doing sky?
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450. flsky
Quoting sunlinepr:
Some meditation before the Eclipse


Nice - thanks. Dichotomies abound.
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Quoting Grothar:
I'm not going to stay up for the eclipse. I'll wait until the next one in 2094, should be a bit earlier than this one.


Granma!! Read what Grothar posted; What's your opinion? OK, lets give it a try.....
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From JB's column tonight.


MONDAY 11 PM
WOW!

Belfast is in the single digits, perhaps and all time record low, and London hit 15 last night.. the coldest I have ever seen it
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447. flsky
Quoting Grothar:
I'm not going to stay up for the eclipse. I'll wait until the next one in 2094, should be a bit earlier than this one.

I'm sure you'll be there!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:
I'm not going to stay up for the eclipse. I'll wait until the next one in 2094, should be a bit earlier than this one.


Set your alarm like i'm doing lol
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Some meditation before the Eclipse

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I'm not going to stay up for the eclipse. I'll wait until the next one in 2094, should be a bit earlier than this one.
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Quoting DontAnnoyMe:


Yeah, the lyrics are rather cryptic but it's nice music anyway. Thanks!


No problem. I just remember this same time last year getting my life back together after some trouble with a girl, and this song was on repeat. It was great song to listen to then, and it always will be.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
442. flsky
Moon straight up over ECF at the moment. Bright white and perfectly round.
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Quoting sunlinepr:


Well, I couldn't figure all that out as quick as you did lol
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting caneswatch:
For the 1000th post, a song that no one knows what it's about:



Yeah, the lyrics are rather cryptic but it's nice music anyway. Thanks!
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Quoting caneswatch:
For the 1000th post, a song no one knows what it's about:





From and including: Wednesday, October 8, 2008
To, but not including : Monday, December 20, 2010

It is 803 days from the start date to the end date, but not including the end date

Or 2 years, 2 months, 12 days excluding the end date
Alternative time units
803 days can be converted to one of these units:

* 69,379,200 seconds
* 1,156,320 minutes
* 19,272 hours
* 114 weeks (rounded down)

So if you made 1000 posts that will be An Average of 1.25 posts per day here in the Blog
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Quoting flsky:
Isn't it easy to steer the blog away from the annoying GW arguments?!
Thank godness that for the first time since november 30 you can finally be apart of a conversation that isn't about GW or climate change.....
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 15707
437. flsky
Quoting KerryInNOLA:

I'm getting ready for the eclipse. Stay up with me!

Yikes! No wonder you're getting blasted!
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as the song says, its just a good vibration! :)






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Quoting KerryInNOLA:

I'm getting ready for the eclipse. Stay up with me!


aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...................
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
It seems many people tonight are on a roll!!!.And 95L?.Havn't 2010 produced enough storms...Or could this foreshadow next year....If we follow the pattern like we've been doing then 2011 should be like 2008.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 15707
432. flsky
Isn't it easy to steer the blog away from the annoying GW arguments?!
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431. JRRP
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5079
The earths axis is changing. That's the secret.
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Quoting caneswatch:
For the 1000th post, a song that no one knows what it's about:



Love that song.... For me Special days Surfing Rincon PR
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427. flsky
Quoting caneswatch:
For the 1000th post, a song that no one knows what it's about:


Huh?
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For the 1000th post, a song no one knows what it's about:

Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553

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About JeffMasters

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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