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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I saw this pic, Grothar, and it reminded me of you. Dunno why.
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975

WHXX01 KWBC 201819

CHGHUR

TROPICAL CYCLONE GUIDANCE MESSAGE

NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL

1819 UTC MON DEC 20 2010



DISCLAIMER...NUMERICAL MODELS ARE SUBJECT TO LARGE ERRORS.

PLEASE REFER TO NHC OFFICIAL FORECASTS FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE

AND SUBTROPICAL CYCLONE INFORMATION.



ATLANTIC OBJECTIVE AIDS FOR



DISTURBANCE INVEST (AL952010) 20101220 1800 UTC



...00 HRS... ...12 HRS... ...24 HRS. .. ...36 HRS...

101220 1800 101221 0600 101221 1800 101222 0600



LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON

BAMS 11.6N 55.1W 12.1N 57.0W 12.6N 59.0W 13.1N 61.0W

BAMD 11.6N 55.1W 12.1N 56.4W 13.0N 57.7W 14.1N 58.6W

BAMM 11.6N 55.1W 12.0N 56.5W 12.5N 58.2W 13.0N 59.6W

LBAR 11.6N 55.1W 12.5N 56.6W 14.2N 58.0W 16.2N 57.8W

SHIP 25KTS 26KTS 27KTS 25KTS

DSHP 25KTS 26KTS 27KTS 25KTS



...48 HRS... ...72 HRS... ...96 HRS. .. ..120 HRS...

101222 1800 101223 1800 101224 1800 101225 1800



LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON

BAMS 13.5N 62.9W 14.0N 65.7W 14.1N 67.9W 14.9N 70.7W

BAMD 15.6N 58.8W 21.0N 47.0W 22.1N 28.4W 19.5N 27.0W

BAMM 13.6N 60.9W 14.8N 62.5W 17.6N 60.7W 22.2N 45.4W

LBAR 17.8N 55.7W 21.8N 48.3W 27.6N 37.5W .0N .0W

SHIP 23KTS 0KTS 0KTS 0KTS

DSHP 23KTS 0KTS 0KTS 0KTS



...INITIAL CONDITIONS...

LATCUR = 11.6N LONCUR = 55.1W DIRCUR = 285DEG SPDCUR = 12KT

LATM12 = 10.9N LONM12 = 52.8W DIRM12 = 282DEG SPDM12 = 12KT

LATM24 = 10.6N LONM24 = 50.4W

WNDCUR = 25KT RMAXWD = 20NM WNDM12 = 20KT

CENPRS = 1008MB OUTPRS = 1011MB OUTRAD = 150NM SDEPTH = M

RD34NE = 0NM RD34SE = 0NM RD34SW = 0NM RD34NW = 0NM



$$

NNNN


Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52265
KEEEPER!!!

oooey gopooeyy huggy wuggys!!

am I gonna get any rain her in North East florida?
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2010 Storms
All Active Year


Atlantic
95L.INVEST

East Pacific

Central Pacific
01C.OMEKA

West Pacific

Indian Ocean

Southern Hemisphere
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52265
Quoting Jeff9641:


Well maybe you are in the closet of whats happening in California because it is just down right devasting in some areas. Rainfall totals nearing 20" in the foothills with 10 to 15' of snow in the mtns. Amazing wx and it maybe coming to the eastern US for Christmas as a big weekend storm.
it is coming and in a big way
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52265
Quoting MTWX:

Just started getting into the whole GW/Climate Change subject.. I was unaware that certain theorys have been ruled out. I guess I need to do a little more research on what is going on from all sides. Thank you.


Well, not necessarily ruled out. Just more like the absence of any known mechanism by which reduced heat energy from the sun could trigger an increase in the stored energy on the planet.
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The reason for 95Ls convection fade is DMIN. Shear map shows 5-10 knots with an anticyclone ahead. I expect convection to refire later tonight.
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Somebody forgot to post this:

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Rescinded...
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hi hydrus

I do not think I will see any real rain in my forecast

all is well, all these young'ns outta school for the holidays
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CBS WWL-TV Interview of Nash Roberts 1997


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America has lost a Great Tropical Met and one who worked hand in hand with John Hope in the WW-2 Pacific developing the Butterfly pattern that the HH use to this day..


Nash Charles Roberts Jr. (born c. 1918 Dec – December 18, 2010) was a New Orleans, Louisiana-based meteorologist widely known for the accuracy of his hurricane forecasts.

He began his career in weather during World War II. He worked for Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Pacific. Roberts was on the first plane to enter the eye of a tropical system near the Philippines. This method is still used today by the "Hurricane Hunters" of the Air Force based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi to measure and record internal conditions in hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to help predict their development and path.

In 1948 he began broadcasting on WDSU-TV. Roberts was the first full-time weathercaster in the Deep South and one of the first to use radar on television weather broadcasts.



NOLA.com WWL-TV meteorologist Nash Roberts dead at 92


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109. JRRP
Quoting Jeff9641:
I wonder what's beginning to cause this La-Nina to look more like an El-Nino set up? Any thought why?

Global Warming
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5082
Quoting aquak9:
oh wait- is this a global warming blog or a dooom and gloom blog?
Hello aquak9..Long time since I have seen a post from you Hope you are doing good. Couple of storms brewing..And an invest if you can believe it..
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jefff96, my NWS only gives me 20% pops for Christmas. It ain't looking good for me.

Will the rest of the country get blasted?
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Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
Quoting Jeff9641:
TWC reported a 155 mph wind gusts in the Sierra Mtns. Amazing amount of energy and that energy is heading east and the Eastern US better beware of what's coming this weekend as some models are exploding a storm off the SE US and shooting it to New England.

That's a lot of wind, and clear evidence of the Venturi effect (More):
-----------------------------
12/19/2010 1233 PM

2 miles W of alpine meadowsne meadowsprings vvil, Placer County.

Non-thunderstorm wind gust m155 mph, reported by mesonet.

155 mile per hour wind gust measured near the Sierra crest. Winds sustained at 124 miles per hour.
-----------------------------
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jeff 9641, I'd love some rain. My Stratus Rain Gauge holds eleven inches.

I can't fit in a closet.
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Quoting Jeff9641:
I wonder what's beginning to cause this La-Nina to look more like an El-Nino set up? Any thought why?



thats what i was wanting too no if sould not be this wet
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Quoting aquak9:
oh wait- is this a global warming blog or a dooom and gloom blog?
Both actually
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oh wait- is this a global warming blog or a dooom and gloom blog?
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I'm telling you the poles are shifting, gulf stream is breaking down,combined w possible AGW and solar flares.
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Quoting Jeff9641:
95L is a whimp compared to what the NE US will experierence later this weekend. Could hurricane force winds in New England if some of the models are correct.


Yeah but it's still a shocker for this time of the year. Should be more like Zeta ('05) and that was a HUGE surprise. Yeah I did hear that New England and the Northeast should be in for some weather-wise action soon but I just cant stop thinking about 95L.
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I came on to say, "WTF"... a December CATL storm, and now this! The world is ending
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Invest 95L. Caught me by surprise but...I'm rather thrilled that this hurricane season is not quite over yet. I mean 3 weeks ago it wouldn't have been so shocking but whoa, could this become like (S)TS Virginie?
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Quoting reedzone:
We should have a 7 p.m. TWO later today, yellow code.


Woah! I guess the 2010 Atlantic Season doesn't yet want to die...

That's also a different place for a storm to form this time of the year, isn't it? Wouldn't we expect any activity to be down in the western Caribbean?
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Happy solstice from Jacksonville

tomorrow night, up all night, keeping the dark away, new day.
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85. JRRP
Quoting BoudreauxThibodeaux:
HAARP caused the hurricanes and the earthquake.

whaaaaaaaaaaaatt ??????????
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5082
84. JRRP
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5082
Quoting bappit:

LOL First time I understood the lyrics.


Haha, i'm surprised it's still up.
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81. MTWX
Quoting MichaelSTL:


Yes, and the Sun has caused global warming in recent decades as a result of DECREASING activity:



The "sun causes global warming" argument is SOOOO stale now...

And have a look at how reconstructions of past solar activity have changed over the years:



Less and less variation; even the Maunder Minimum was nothing more than a prolonged minimum, not a drastic drop in baseline activity (in other words, the Sun has a constant baseline on top of which solar cycles ride and it cannot ever go lower).

Just started getting into the whole GW/Climate Change subject.. I was unaware that certain theorys have been ruled out. I guess I need to do a little more research on what is going on from all sides. Thank you.
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We should have a 7 p.m. TWO later today, yellow code.
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Invest 95L, 20 days after the 'season' retired!
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Yep if you go to the Navy Site we do have 95L! Woah!
Navy Site
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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.