Scientists Say We Could Experience More Earthquakes Next Year Because Earth is Slowing Down

A hiker in Iceland straddles a spot where two of the Earth’s tectonic plates are cleaving. Ariane Hoehne/

You probably didn’t notice, but the Earth is taking things a little slow right now.

Since 2011, our planet has been rotating at a pace a few thousandths of a second slower than usual.

Our planetary spin cycle changes constantly — ocean currents and atmospheric changes have an impact, as do the mantle and molten core under them. But the current pattern has a team of geologists worried about earthquakes.

Professors Roger Bilham and Rebecca Bendick warn that the Earth’s slowing could lead to more than twice as many 7-plus-magnitude quakes in 2018.

Bilham, who studies earthquakes at the University of Colorado, told Business Insider that when the Earth’s pace lags for years at a time, its middle contracts. That shrinks the equator, but it’s hard for the tectonic plates that form Earth’s outer shell to adjust accordingly.

Instead of falling in line with the slimmer waistline, the edges of those plates get squeezed together.

This all takes time for us to feel on the ground. But after five years without many high-intensity quakes, we’re approaching the moment when the effects of this squeeze could be felt around the globe, Bilham said. He estimates the planet could see, on average, 20 high-magnitude earthquakes for each of the next four years. (By comparison, just seven earthquakes have registered above a 7.0 so far this year.)

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SOURCE: Business Insider, Hilary Brueck