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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1076. Neapolitan
3:34 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
NEW BLOG ENTRY
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13580
1074. RitaEvac
3:28 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
RAWS FT. YUKON AK US, Chalkyitsik, Alaska (PWS)
Updated: 36 min 16 sec ago
-36 °F
Clear
Windchill: -36 °F
Humidity: 69%
Dew Point: -42 °F
Wind: Calm
Wind Gust: 0.0 mph
Pressure: in
Visibility: 10.0 miles
UV: 0 out of 16
Clouds: Clear -
(Above Ground Level)
Elevation: 464 ft

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1073. Minnemike
3:27 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting RitaEvac:
4 day totals near Vegas



it looks like the San Bernadino area in California got up to 15 inches of rain in the last 24hrs! think we may be reading about some major floods out of SoCal in a blog coming up. don't know how to embed the image, but see Edwards AFB accumulations.
Member Since: July 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1320
1072. HurricaneSwirl
3:25 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Jeff9641:


The 00Z Euro and yesterday's 12Z Euro are identical. Very ominous to see that!


Ooh.. Now I'm even more interested to see today's 12Z run.
Member Since: July 7, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 3237
1071. RitaEvac
3:25 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Vegas soaking, and going under


Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1069. HurricaneSwirl
3:22 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Anyway why is everyone focusing on yesterday's 12Z run so much? What about the 00Z run? (I'm talking about the Euro)
Member Since: July 7, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 3237
1066. palmbaywhoo
3:19 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Skyepony:


I contemplated making this trip myself. Best to drive Friday. Snow should start Friday night. Could be heavy on Saturday on into the night & next day. I was up there in '93. It could be pretty shut down for travel Saturday til Monday or Tuesday, unless you have a 4WD or something.

No 4WD, I guess if it comes to it, a nice vacation in a hotel works too.
But it does help answer the question on whether I take the Sonata or Sante Fe
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 394
1064. RitaEvac
3:19 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
4 day totals near Vegas



Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1063. Skyepony (Mod)
3:16 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting palmbaywhoo:
I am headed to Western NC this weekend. Best to drive overnight Saturday or during the day Sunday?


I contemplated making this trip myself. Best to drive Friday. Snow should start Friday night. Could be heavy on Saturday on into the night & next day. I was up there in '93. It could be pretty shut down for travel Saturday til Monday or Tuesday, unless you have a 4WD or something.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38333
1062. CybrTeddy
3:14 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Jeff9641:
Very dangerous storm maybe in the works and people from FL to Maine better watch this closely!


On Saturday? Or next week?
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24263
1061. Minnemike
3:13 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting cat5hurricane:

Oh yeah, right. Wasn't it just 25-30 years ago when scientists were buying into the goofy idea of global cooling and the coming of the next ice age before global warming became the hot topic. Sounds like a flip flop to me. Funny, cuz I don't recall scientists ever considering that the earth's gravitational pull (a law, by the way) causes things to go up instead of down. Comparing gravity with GW makes no sense.
yeah Neapolitan, i know it's been pretty ridiculous, me and Calusakat... the thing is, there are some on here who just won't quit, day after day, posting just the most insulting insinuations. though i know it really won't stop, whether they continue or someone else just takes their place, i'm gonna stick with Calusakat for the benefit of the human species. i've got to believe we can improve, and if running around all over the place, with every wriggle, twist and turn, jumping in front of them to hold up a mirror, just whatever it takes to get them to see their own reflection, i'll do it.

so to you Cat5, i bid you well.
Member Since: July 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1320
1060. Neapolitan
3:12 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting cat5hurricane:

Oh yeah, right. Wasn't it just 25-30 years ago when scientists were buying into the goofy idea of global cooling and the coming of the next ice age before global warming became the hot topic. Sounds like a flip flop to me. Funny, cuz I don't recall scientists ever considering that the earth's gravitational pull (a law, by the way) causes things to go up instead of down. Comparing gravity with GW makes no sense.

You keep bringing up that bit about scientists "buying into" global cooling or an impending ice age 40 years ago, yet you've failed to respond--even once--to the numerous replies that explained in concise detail just why comparing that to the current warnings of global warming is really just apples and oranges. As I said: impervious to facts or reason. That's fine, but I really haven't the time to waste replying to you yet again, only to be ignored yet again, so you'll need to follow your line of "logic" with someone other than me.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13580
1059. RitaEvac
3:12 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Awesome pic

Thursday December 16, 2010 Spring Creek, NV (

Woke up this morning to a beautiful outdoor surprise, everything was enveloped in pogonip with a bright blue sunny sky as a backdrop. Just gorgeous!



Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1058. HurricaneSwirl
3:11 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting reedzone:


If the EURO is also right, we will have a severe weather outbreak. Frank Strait made a snowfall/storm map based on the 12Z EURO yesterday.. Looks very similar to the 1993 Superstorm.
Link


Well based on the that I get 3-6 inches of snow on christmas. I realize it's not a prediction of any kind though and is extremely unlikely. Though it is interesting.
Member Since: July 7, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 3237
1054. RitaEvac
3:02 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Jeff9641:


I think a slight chance for severe wx will be needed in your forecast for Friday the that threat shifts to FL Saturday night Sunday morning.


Everybody on east coast to Florida should watch how things pan out in the south central plains into TX, if big storms/squall line forms you can bet the developing storm off the east coast is gonna be a doozy.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1051. RitaEvac
2:58 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Guidance has come in significantly stronger and wetter for SE TX. Strong dyanamical lift along and ahead of front.Widespread rains and storms looking likely, good we need it.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1049. palmbaywhoo
2:56 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
I am headed to Western NC this weekend. Best to drive overnight Saturday or during the day Sunday?
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 394
1048. Minnemike
2:55 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting calusakat:


Obviously you haven't finished reading the material and understanding it.

No worry, I'll wait until you do.



i responded to your next entry as i would have were i around. so tell me. show me. prove it to me just like it's been proven to you that the climate research results are a hoax designed to get money money money for the scientists performing the research and generating data.

the only single thing i saw you bring up was East Anglia bs. your inability to comprehend that episode is nothing i can affect, so i'll let that stand as your sole evidence. yet, that episode actually has ZERO correlation to your proof, or utter lack thereof, that AGW is all about the money.

futhrmore, i also noticed you had the audacity to attempt to singlehandedly, in one night, combat years of rigorous scientific research by groups of professionals who contributed to the science that was presented by Shimon Wdowinsky, feature of Dr. M's topic. your entire argument was that they are wrong based on the volume of water released by the tropical storms being minuscule in comparison to the weight and density of rock. however, it was about the SEDIMENT LOSS and REDISTRIBUTION! your entire basis for comparison and argument was flawed from the top down. THIS is a prime example of your foul disrespect and contempt for hard working scientists and the rigors of serious research.

keep up your shameful tirade so we may continue to see what motivates YOU.
Member Since: July 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1320
1047. reedzone
2:52 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting MrstormX:

It might be a bit premature to make such a judgment, but it does look like a nasty setup.


He wasn't saying it was gonna happen.. He was just making a snowmap based on that particular run. He even mentions in his video that he made that map for someones project. It's not a prediction just yet, I thought it was interesting to show, since the EURO has nailed the past few storms.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7396
1046. MrstormX
2:48 PM GMT on December 22, 2010

Quoting reedzone:


If the EURO is also right, we will have a severe weather outbreak. Frank Strait made a snowfall/storm map based on the 12Z EURO yesterday.. Looks very similar to the 1993 Superstorm.
Link
It might be a bit premature to make such a judgment, but it does look like a nasty setup.
Member Since: May 27, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 4438
1045. reedzone
2:45 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Jax82:


I'll be in central NC this weekend, hope i can make it back to FL on sunday, i like snow, but not a foot of it :)


If the EURO is also right, we will have a severe weather outbreak. Frank Strait made a snowfall/storm map based on the 12Z EURO yesterday.. Looks very similar to the 1993 Superstorm.
Link
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7396
1044. RitaEvac
2:44 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
I guarantee you it was left over Halloween candy that some company or people needed to get rid of.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1043. flsky
2:41 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting DentalPainDMD:
so your giving candy to kids in haiti. A place where kids are never going to see a dentist? I bet there are other things they really need. Like: food shelter water


I agree. I was going to say something about this yesterday, but I thought I would get jumped on all over the place. This was probably the most cost effective, but next time, maybe water and powdered milk?
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2037
1042. Jax82
2:40 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting reedzone:
If the EURO is right, it's a repeat of the 1993 Superstorm. Lets not forget the EURO nailed the last 2 storms while the GFS was playing games. This is a good possibility.


I'll be in central NC this weekend, hope i can make it back to FL on sunday, i like snow, but not a foot of it :)
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
1041. Neapolitan
2:38 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Minnemike:
investing in what, the Green economy? i thought you were all for that.

funding science is not investing. investing funds are for generating profit. profits are dollars. the government does not get profit for granting funds for research. the personnel performing the research do not get profit either. they get a salary, and those salaries are not going to get anyone in the top tier tax bracket anytime soon.

so do tell, and provide a sliver of evidence, as to who is giving what to whom now that corrupts the whole of climate research? how again is it that AGW is a hoax perpetrated by money grubbing scientists?

Oh, c'mon, Mike; don't you know that gravity and relativity are also hoaxes perpetrated by money-grubbing scientists? ;-)

This person with whom you've been sparring the past few days--and running logical circles around while doing so--seems impervious to facts and reason, so I give you major props for hanging in there. It's been fun to watch, if more than a little circular and repetitious at times. But I wonder whether she knows that the National Academy of Sciences--an institution signed into existence in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln--recently stated the following:

"Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities."

Even if I didn't understand much of the science--which I do--I would be vastly more likely to give credence to highly educated, highly experienced, and highly respected scientists than I would to, say, a person outside shouting at the rain. Just makes sense, no?
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13580
1040. reedzone
2:38 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
If the EURO is right, it's a repeat of the 1993 Superstorm. Lets not forget the EURO nailed the last 2 storms while the GFS was playing games. This is a good possibility.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7396
1039. Jax82
2:36 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Lunar eclipse at sunrise in poland.

Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
1038. RitaEvac
2:34 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Who in the hell is sending all that candy?
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1036. calusakat
2:29 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting McBill:

Not my job to fix your mistakes. I suggest you try Everyday Math for Dummies.




Already have it in the library.

Actually, with that response of yours it is most likely that I did not make a math error.

Regardless, later today I will have an alternate view that is more easily understood and requires almost no math.

Anyway, thanks for causing me to take another look at my conceptualization. It will be much better this way.


Member Since: October 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 716
1035. RitaEvac
2:28 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1034. RitaEvac
2:25 PM GMT on December 22, 2010


Candy, candy, candy. boy I tell ya...
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
1033. DentalPainDMD
2:22 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
so your giving candy to kids in haiti. A place where kids are never going to see a dentist? I bet there are other things they really need. Like: food shelter water
Member Since: May 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 39
1032. calusakat
2:21 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Minnemike:
investing in what, the Green economy? i thought you were all for that.

funding science is not investing. investing funds are for generating profit. profits are dollars. the government does not get profit for granting funds for research. the personnel performing the research do not get profit either. they get a salary, and those salaries are not going to get anyone in the top tier tax bracket anytime soon.

so do tell, and provide a sliver of evidence, as to who is giving what to whom now that corrupts the whole of climate research? how again is it that AGW is a hoax perpetrated by money grubbing scientists?


Obviously you haven't finished reading the material and understanding it.

No worry, I'll wait until you do.


Member Since: October 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 716
1031. HurricaneSwirl
2:11 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Here in Macon, GA there has never been a White Christmas as far as record keeping goes. Will this be the year? Probably not, we're too far south. But places like Birmingham, Atlanta, Athens, and Greenville have a much higher chance.
Member Since: July 7, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 3237
1030. Minnemike
2:11 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting calusakat:


Wow you are two thirds of the way there.

I am assuming that some Psychology has rubbed of on you and that doing bookkeeping has helped as well.

Now all you have to do is delve into investing and then take the next step which is to tie Psychology so that you understand what drives investors to do what they do. Finally, using you bookkeeping skills, you should be able to see what drives investing.

Then we will talk about the rest of the story regarding how AGW is about money.



investing in what, the Green economy? i thought you were all for that.

funding science is not investing. investing funds are for generating profit. profits are dollars. the government does not get profit for granting funds for research. the personnel performing the research do not get profit either. they get a salary, and those salaries are not going to get anyone in the top tier tax bracket anytime soon.

so do tell, and provide a sliver of evidence, as to who is giving what to whom now that corrupts the whole of climate research? how again is it that AGW is a hoax perpetrated by money grubbing scientists?
Member Since: July 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1320
1029. Orcasystems
1:56 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Quoting Neapolitan:
Maybe you southern snow lovers will get a repeat of the News Years Eve 1963 Snowstorm: 17" inches in Huntsville, Alabama; 15" in Meridian, Mississippi; 10.5" in Bay St. Louis; 4.5" in New Orleans.

Good times, no doubt...


668. PensacolaDoug 1:54 PM GMT on October 08, 2010

PDoug wanted a repeat of Feb 1899
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
1028. Neapolitan
1:53 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Maybe you southern snow lovers will get a repeat of the News Years Eve 1963 Snowstorm: 17" inches in Huntsville, Alabama; 15" in Meridian, Mississippi; 10.5" in Bay St. Louis; 4.5" in New Orleans.

Good times, no doubt...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13580
1027. Chicklit
1:51 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Nobody ever minds snow on Christmas.
Have a great day everyone!
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11358
1026. Orcasystems
1:46 PM GMT on December 22, 2010
Complete Update





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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.