High-budget Hollywood disaster flicks love to make up weird natural phenomena to vaguely explain why a bunch of crazy catastrophes are about to threaten the very existence of mankind, but they’re almost always complete bunk. Now, a new study featuring actual science suggests that 2018 could see a spike in huge earthquakes around the globe, and it’s thanks to the Earth’s rotation slowing down.
The research, which was presented in a paper by scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Montana at Missoula, focuses on historic earthquake trends and seems to draw a pretty strong link between periods of slower Earth rotation and rashes of major quakes.
It sure sounds like a sci-fi plot point, but the science is based purely in reality. The study’s authors plotted earthquake activity going back over 100 years, and thanks to the wealth of data available they were able to determine that the temporary slowing of Earth’s rotation seems to be linked to the most devastating and frequent earthquake outbreaks.
The Earth’s rotation is usually incredibly consistent, but it does go through brief spells where it rotates a tad slower than normal. The change would never be noticeable to anyone if not for the precise equipment scientists use to measure it, and it only affects the length of the day by milliseconds at most. These temporary dips are a well documented phenomenon, but they never last long before the Earth starts to speed back up again.
During these periods, the researchers say that major earthquakes — that is, quakes that register a magnitude of 7 or greater — happen with much greater frequency. In an average year we expect a little over a dozen of these types of quakes around the world, but in years where the Earth’s rotation slows that number spikes to has high as 30. In 2018 the Earth is expected to reach its slowest rotational speed before picking up the pace once more, and that could spell doom for earthquake-prone regions.
“Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes,” study co-author Roger Bilham explains. “We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes. We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018.”