Update One: The USGS has upgraded this event to a magnitude 6.3 event according to our seismic notification system.
Earlier today the USGS reported a magnitude 6.0 earthquake along the Northern Mid-Atlantic ridge. The relatively powerful, and fairly shallow quake struck in mid-ocean approximately 325 miles southwest of the Portuguese Azores Islands. Given the remoteness of the event, no injuries or damage were reported.
The reason for this report is that earthquakes of this magnitude are fairly atypical along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, as compared to in the Pacific. As for serious quakes, where human fatalities and property damage are involved, the last Mid-Atlantic quake of this sort occurred 30 years ago in the nearby Azores. That quake, a 7.2 event, killed 60 and caused serious damage on the Islands. Obviously, this year has seen its share of violent and deadly earthquakes around the globe, but of particular interest to many is the suggestion that these events are somehow linked, or that unseen factors have caused much of this seismic upheaval.
While there is not concrete evidence of this, people (even some experts) see these events as cause for heightened awareness – certainly not alarm. The location of this event, along the same fault which runs very close to Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Of even more interest is the possible connections between tectonic movement atop the already unstable relationship between Eyjafjallajökull and its larger and more powerful neighbor Katla. While Katla’s live cam shows the mountain’s dormant state, the connection between these two volcanoes is well documented. When Eyjafjallajökull, the larger and more dangerous Katla follows.
Any geologist will tell you, no direct correlation between earthquakes along these plates and volcanic eruptions has ever been proven. But, what they will also say is that a large seismic event in proximity to an unstable volcano could cause an eruption. This is just common sense. For this reason we have been monitoring atypical events around the world in an unofficial attempt to correlate these events. This is of course, not scientific, but rather an awareness issue.
Earth’s Interactive Nature
The reason we are watching these particular phenomena more closely is the Iceland is a fascinating case study in Earth dynamics. The EU’s air space has been in a shambles since the Iceland eruptions began, and subsequently the economies of travel. This is just one of the many impacts of these events. For the “would be” Earth learner out there, some science is absolute (actually it all is – scientists just don’t know everything yet), while pseudo-science is about theories. No scientist would disagree that everything that happens on Earth is connected to some other happening, no matter how minuscule the relationship.
Below is an area of possible concern, not alarm mind you, just concern. To make this brief, suffice it to say that Iceland is basically being pulled apart like a huge piece of bread. The Mid-Atlantic plate runs right through the middle, one tectonic plate (the North American) pulling West, while the other plate (the Eurasian plate) pulls the Island East with the force of the whole of Eurasia basically. Inches at a time mind you, but imagine the pressure.
Time and Pressure
The image at left shows this pressure AND the volcanic activity along these faults. Without getting to technical here, one problem with today’s earthquake (besides it being slightly atypical) is the area where it occurred. If I am not wrong, this type of fault is known as a transform fault, basically two plates which rather than sliding under one another – are sliding past one another – vertically.
This is common of course, but there is an anomaly concerning the Mid-Atlantic and Iceland which is not so common, and at least interesting. The exact spot where Eyjafjallajökull and Katla are located is connected via one of these interesting plate areas. In fact, that particular one is one of only a very few which are located on dry land. The other major one? The San Andreas Fault in Baja and California.
My question for any geologist reading this is; “What happens if a major earthquake occurs on this fault where these two volcanoes are located. Especially since one is already erupting? The live cam (below) from the Institute of Earth Sciences Nordic Volcanological Center shows Eyjafjallajökull’s current activity clearly.
As for Katla, all seems quiet in the live came at the bottom. Of course, in the absence of hard data, or at least viable methodology, no geologist is going to predict anything in Iceland. The probability is already there though, many are expecting Katla to go at any time. These are interesting observations and questions too. Maybe we will have more answers soon. Hopefully without the loss of life.