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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shear tending to drop near 95L with anticyclone nearby.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
well long time no chat i see you are back but not for long


What i'm saying. You know what they say, you can't fix stupid.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting CybrTeddy:
A SMALL BUT WELL-DEFINED LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM LOCATED ABOUT 275 MILES
EAST-SOUTHEAST OF BARBADOS IS PRODUCING SCATTERED SHOWERS OVER THE
SOUTHWESTERN TROPICAL ATLANTIC. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE NOT
CONDUCIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT AT THIS TIME. HOWEVER...CONDITIONS COULD
BECOME A LITTLE MORE FAVORABLE ON TUESDAY...RESULTING IN A BRIEF
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR SOME DEVELOPMENT AS THE LOW PASSES OVER
OR NEAR THE SOUTHERN AND CENTRAL LESSER ANTILLES. THERE IS A MEDIUM
CHANCE...30 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE
DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST OR
NORTH WEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH. REGARDLESS OF DEVELOPMENT...THIS SYSTEM
WILL BRING LOCALLY HEAVY RAINFALL AND GUSTY WINDS TO MUCH OF THE
LESSER ANTILLES DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO.

Man this would be very cool if we get Virginie in late December.
It's still possible... just looked at goes east imagery and found 95L has a anticyclone over it and that the wind shear is at about 5 to 15 knots, with SST's in the 28 C range, the odds arent quite against it just yet, it has about 44 Hours a development left or more depending.
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Quoting KonArtist:


well long time no chat i see you are back but not for long
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53841
Quoting MoeHoward:
Deforestation & rain cause earthquakes.....what happened to sound, rational science? This is more ridiculous than the global warming hoax!


lmao! read post 4
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A SMALL BUT WELL-DEFINED LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM LOCATED ABOUT 275 MILES
EAST-SOUTHEAST OF BARBADOS IS PRODUCING SCATTERED SHOWERS OVER THE
SOUTHWESTERN TROPICAL ATLANTIC. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE NOT
CONDUCIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT AT THIS TIME. HOWEVER...CONDITIONS COULD
BECOME A LITTLE MORE FAVORABLE ON TUESDAY...RESULTING IN A BRIEF
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR SOME DEVELOPMENT AS THE LOW PASSES OVER
OR NEAR THE SOUTHERN AND CENTRAL LESSER ANTILLES. THERE IS A MEDIUM
CHANCE...30 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE
DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST OR
NORTH WEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH. REGARDLESS OF DEVELOPMENT...THIS SYSTEM
WILL BRING LOCALLY HEAVY RAINFALL AND GUSTY WINDS TO MUCH OF THE
LESSER ANTILLES DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO.

Man this would be very cool if we get Virginie in late December.
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Minneapolis is getting some solid snow at the moment, and by the looks of current WV loops, this deepening low could bomb out over us like our previous 'dome-busting' storm... while significantly less should fall in comparison, i'm starting to get a little concerned, it being a Monday at work and not Saturday at home :(
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NHC Just released a special tropical outlook and gave 95L a 30% chance of forming and it was well defined.

A SMALL BUT WELL-DEFINED LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM LOCATED ABOUT 275 MILES
EAST-SOUTHEAST OF BARBADOS IS PRODUCING SCATTERED SHOWERS OVER THE
SOUTHWESTERN TROPICAL ATLANTIC. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE NOT
CONDUCIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT AT THIS TIME. HOWEVER...CONDITIONS COULD
BECOME A LITTLE MORE FAVORABLE ON TUESDAY...RESULTING IN A BRIEF
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR SOME DEVELOPMENT AS THE LOW PASSES OVER
OR NEAR THE SOUTHERN AND CENTRAL LESSER ANTILLES. THERE IS A MEDIUM
CHANCE...30 PERCENT...
OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE
DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST OR
NORTH WEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH. REGARDLESS OF DEVELOPMENT...THIS SYSTEM
WILL BRING LOCALLY HEAVY RAINFALL AND GUSTY WINDS TO MUCH OF THE
LESSER ANTILLES DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Funniest thing about Zeta were the advisories..
Starting about Jan 2 they predicted dissipation in the next 24 hours..
By the 5th the advisory went something like
"I know you have heard this before but environmental conditions are very unfavorable and dissipation is expected in the next 24 hours"
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Quoting Grothar:
Any chance of 95L hitting South Florida. (Aw, come on, somebody had to say it.)
hahahaahahahahahhahahahahahahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhahahaahha
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Quoting sailingallover:
Anybody checking out the little disturbance at 12N 55W?

OHHH OHH OHHH THEY MADE IT AN INVEST!!!
Really when I posted this I was teasing although I thought it an interesting feature.....
But now OH YEAH!!! And Nobody is here to argue with me about what it will do!!!!!
I predict a CAT 3 just north of Aruba in 3 days!!!!
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Tropical Storm Zeta (2005) - Late on December 29, more than four weeks after the official end to the season, a tropical disturbance developed in the east-central Atlantic. It quickly became more organized and was declared Tropical Depression Thirty. The next day, Thirty was declared a tropical storm. Zeta made a turn toward the west but stalled and gradually weakened until dissipating on January 6, 2006.[53]

Zeta is one of the latest-forming tropical cyclones ever to develop in the recorded history of Atlantic hurricane seasons; the only later storm was Hurricane Alice of 1954-55, which is estimated to have become tropical on December 30, 1954 at 1 a.m. EST (0600 UTC). It is also the second recorded North Atlantic storm (after Alice) to exist in two calendar years. In addition, Zeta surpassed Alice as the longest-lived tropical cyclone to form in December and cross over into the next year, and it was also the longest-lived January tropical cyclone. Zeta finally dissipated on January 6, 2006.

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Whoa 95L!?!
i know right, said the same thing, very surprising, if you look at the sat. it has a tight little circulation too!
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Any chance of 95L hitting South Florida. (Aw, come on, somebody had to say it.)
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Quoting aquak9:
is he the husband of the lady who makes those yummy little cakes?


(Chuckle, chuckle) Good one, aqua!
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Quoting KoolMowDee:
Canes, I believe the last thing i told u was that va tech would beat your joke of a team by at least 10 points and that definitely happened, soooo....what do i have to learn?


not to lose to a Div.1 AA team
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Whoa 95L!?!
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Quoting JRRP:

Well Lookie there tight little circulation presentation, i guess there is a reason for having this invest around, intereseting little system to watch. Just havent seen an invest in december since..... :/ huh, cant remember...
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These trolls can say whatever they want, but they're just one step away from being "back, back, back, back, GONE!"
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting bappit:
I saw this pic, Grothar, and it reminded me of you. Dunno why.


Actually, I think that is "The Creature from the Black Lagoon", but thanks for the compliment anyway. Didn't think anyone would notice the resemblence.
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Quoting JRRP:

Thats what I'm talking about...
little vorticity..little convection..little shear..lots of warm water still...
OK so it's probably not going to do anything but lets argue about it anyway!!!! Much better than GW!! WAIT I SEE A COC!!!!
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145. Skyepony (Mod)
Very neat this full lunar eclipse is happening so close to winter solstice...1st time in 372 years. Next time it will be 2094.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:

How Bout That A Christmas Invest, lol. This little guy wont last long. Not going to even watch it really, give it a 20% Chance of Forming into a sub-tropical system. that nor-easter is dragging a front through the central caribbean right now and it would take some serious intensification, and organization for it to be named. anyway off the tropics once again i guess, Happy Holidays To All! Be sure to look out for that Lunar Eclipse tonight at 1:00 or 2:00 tomorrow morning! Have a good rest of the day.
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Quoting JLPR2:
Interesting, a 95L in December...

Hiya everyone, its been awhile.


Hi, everyone..... Well, it can happen, even in January...

Subtropical Storm One
Subtropical storm (SSHS)

Duration January 18 – January 23
Intensity 45 mph (75 km/h) (1-min), 1002 mbar (hPa)
Main article: 1978 January subtropical storm

A meteorological oddity, the first storm of the season developed from an upper level trough on January 18 while 1,725 miles (2,800 km) east-northeast of Puerto Rico. It moved westward, intensifying to a 45 mph (75 km/h) subtropical storm over the central Atlantic Ocean. Climatology prevailed, and the storm dissipated on January 23, 230 miles (370 km) northeast of Puerto Rico.

Subtropical Storm One became the earliest recorded tropical or subtropical storm to form in the Atlantic basin, and the only one to do so at all during January, when it formed on January 18. Note that two storms on record, Hurricane Alice from the 1954 season and Tropical Storm Zeta from the 2005 season have formed during December and lasted into January.
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
Quoting KoolMowDee:
Canes, I believe the last thing i told u was that va tech would beat your joke of a team by at least 10 points and that definitely happened, soooo....what do i have to learn?


A lot, especially to never come back where you're not welcomed.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting KonArtist:


We cross?


This is actually making me laugh. If anyone here remembers the trolls on WU Chat, they're back.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting BoudreauxThibodeaux:
2 words: James Madison
is he the husband of the lady who makes those yummy little cakes?
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137. JRRP
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keeper I would rather have the rain but oh well
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Quoting KoolMowDee:
how bout them miami hurricanes caneswatch? LOL, what a joke


Oh, it's you again. I believe you are the joke by coming back here after what, a few months? Some people never learn.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
131. JLPR2
Interesting, a 95L in December...

Hiya everyone, its been awhile.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
130. beell
Maybe a little dry in the mid-levels to support deep convection for 95L.

TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
105 PM EST MON DEC 20 2010

...A SURFACE TROUGH WITH AN EMBEDDED SURFACE LOW EXTENDS FROM 13N53W THROUGH
THE LOW CENTER NEAR 11N54W TO INLAND OVER SURINAME NEAR 6N56W.
CLUSTERS OF SCATTERED MODERATE TO ISOLATED STRONG CONVECTION ARE
FROM 9N-13N BETWEEN 48W AND 55W WITH MOSTLY SCATTERED SHOWERS
AND ALONG THE COAST OF SURINAME S OF 7N BETWEEN 54W AND 56W...

Trinidad


Barbados


Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:
Somebody forgot to post this:



You know that's forbidden this time of year LOL
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting aquak9:
KEEEPER!!!

oooey gopooeyy huggy wuggys!!

am I gonna get any rain her in North East florida?


rain i don't know cold yes
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53841
Quoting MichaelSTL:


Interesting...

Pope: Creation vs. evolution clash an ‘absurdity’

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy — Pope Benedict XVI said the debate raging in some countries — particularly the United States and his native Germany — between creationism and evolution was an “absurdity,” saying that evolution can coexist with faith.


Pope Urges Action On Climate Change: 'This Is A Growing Crisis'

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI called for urgent action to protect the environment, saying Tuesday that climate change and natural catastrophes threaten the rights to life, food, health – and ultimately peace.

During his papacy, the Vatican has been taking steps toward greater environmental sustainability, joining a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions, and has installed solar cells on the roof of its main auditorium.


So you said you were a Christian, yet don't believe in those? So all of those millions of scientists are all wrong and part of some massive global conspiracy (for whatever reason) and should be burned at the stake - NOT!


pope is only for catholics, not all christians
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I saw this pic, Grothar, and it reminded me of you. Dunno why.
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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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