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Vanishing Glaciers Could be Responsible for Frequent Earthquakes in Alaska

Representative photo

Representative photo

Researchers link the expanding movement of the mantle with the frequent earthquakes across Southeast Alaska, where glaciers have been vanishing for over 200 years.

Earthquakes have become quite common in the northernmost region of the United States in Alaska. In a recent paper, scientists with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute have indicated that the earthquakes may have got nothing to do with the natural movement of tectonic plates and everything to do with climate change.

Published in the Advancing Earth and Space Science journal, the paper titled “Stress Promotion of the 1958 Mw∼7.8 Fairweather Fault Earthquake and Others in Southeast Alaska by Glacial Isostatic Adjustment and Inter‐earthquake Stress Transfer” has shown how melting of glaciers in Alaska’s is causing the earth to rebound.

The recent study mentions Alaska has some of the world’s largest glaciers, that can be thousands of feet thick and cover hundreds of square miles. This massive accumulation of large masses of frozen ice creates an equally massive weight that causes the land beneath it to sink. And now when the temperature of the planet is on the rise at an unnatural rate due to greenhouse gases, these glaciers are melting. When large chunks of glaciers melt into the warming seas the ground beneath the erstwhile frozen ground springs back like a sponge which in turn creates earthquakes in the region.

Chris Rollins, the study’s lead author who conducted the research while at the Geophysical Institute said in a press statementthat there are two components to the uplifting movement. He said the first is called the ‘elastic effect,’ which is when the earth instantly springs back up after an ice mass is removed and the second is the prolonged effect from the mantle rising back upwards under the vacated space.

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Researchers link the expanding movement of the mantle with the frequent earthquakes across Southeast Alaska, where glaciers have been vanishing for over 200 years. In this region more than 1,200 cubic miles of ice have been lost in the two centuries.

The Southern Alaska region shares the boundary in the middle of the continental North American plate and the Pacific Plate that rubs past each other at about two inches per year which is roughly twice the rate of the San Andreas fault in California. The research has found that the vanishing glaciers have also caused Southeast Alaska’s land to rise at about 1.5 inches per year.

first published:March 22, 2021, 17:20 IST