Published: Concepts in Global Tectonics

The sun is triggering the deadliest earthquakes on the planet, including the recent M8.3 earthquake in Chile on September 16, 2015, and deadly tsunami that followed, according to two papers to be published on October 5th in New Concepts in Global Tectonics. The papers investigate fluctuations in the magnetic field activity of the sun and found a statistically significant relationship between M8+ earthquakes and the extremes and reversals in magnetism of solar polar magnetic fields.

The team first announced the results in August 2014, and recently used the methods proposed in that study to provide evidence that a recent major earthquake fit the patterns observed in the foundational study. In early 2014, Dr. Christopher Holloman’s team of researchers at The Ohio State University Statistical Consulting Service was able to construct a model that exhibited very strong agreement between solar magnetism patterns and the occurrence of large earthquakes. Dr. Holloman warned that formal testing of the model can only be performed by examining its performance over the next few years, but that the agreement was sufficient to suggest that a relationship likely exists between solar polar fields, or magnetic fields associated with the north and south poles of the sun, and large earthquakes. Now we have a subsequent event that appears to comport with the initial study.

“This type of confirmation is merely the first step, but it is certainly a positive one,” notes lead author Ben Davidson of SpaceWeatherNews LLC, “we were already in the process of investigating large seismic events since the end-date of our initial study when the Chile disaster occurred, and we hope to have further publications covering those events in more detail in 2016.” The second paper was submitted by Davidson alone and was restricted to analysis of the Chile earthquake in order to accompany the initial study.

“The most striking aspect of the model is that it is, for the most part, relatively simple,” says Dr. Holloman. “The patterns observed in the solar magnetic fields aren’t the result of applying some obscure mathematical functions. The algorithm is based on things like peaks and troughs in solar cycles or the absolute strength of one of the poles at a particular time. Such simple models are more often predictive than more complex models.”

The relationship described here “may be linked to the electrical connections between the Earth and the Sun,” according to Dr. Kongpop U-yen. “After looking at the complete data set, it is not difficult for anyone to see that there is a connection. To be sure we did not fool ourselves, we back up this finding using verifiable statistical analysis.” The scientific field has been making a move to integrate electromagnetic and electrostatic elements into the general discourse, and the team believes that these papers fall in that same vein of progress.

The studies also suggest that interplanetary magnetic fields associated with lower-latitude coronal holes, especially those attached to polar coronal hole structures, may also provide avenues for further study, along with alternative ways to monitor this field activity, such as the intensity of the solar wind associated with the coronal holes. Commenting further on the simplicity of the algorithm, Davidson notes, “We look at extremes in magnetism and reversal of polarity – it is actually quite simple.”

Both papers will be published in the upcoming issue of New Concepts in Global Tectonics available on October 5th, 2015, and discussion of solar-triggered earthquakes will be part of Observing the Frontier in Pittsburgh, PA on October 17 and 18, 2015.