North Atlantic Earthquake Today Raises Questions [Update]

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.

2010Evidence and Theories

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.

The Atlantic Ridge

Location of latest quake and green transitional plates

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.
Iceland tectonics

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.

Iceland live volcano cam

Live cam from Iceland

Katla live

Live cam of Katla in Southern Iceland


  1. Conni says

    Could this have a connection with the oil crisis? I guess more oil is spewing out now. Couldn’t that cause the earth’s pressure to change?

  2. C8-@ says

    I have been ‘watching’ Katla closely for several days now and keeping an eye on the earthquakes around/beneath it on the Icelandic Met Office website. I’m no expert, are these much to be concerned about? This Mid-Atlantic quake is news to me as it has not been reported here by the press in the UK at all.

    I have also read on my travels that there was a Tsunami related to the eruption of Hekla in 1159 BC, can anyone confirm this?

    Jeremy I would be interested in hearing about these dreams as I too have had a couple of ‘prophetic’ ones recently.

    Thanks Phil

  3. Jeremy says

    Every day for years I check USGS earthquakes web page. I have had prophetic dreams my entire life about the convergence of many of these events. I hypothisize also that there is a direct relation from extreme storm cells to trigger earthquakes as a direct force of pressure or vacumme on the earths surface. For every action/force there is an equal and opposite reaction; right? Glad I found this link. Like Andrew I also found it after checking the USGS network today and noticed the North Atlantic Ridge Earthquake. With such a shallow epicenter it’s no wonder more people are not concerned. With one of the largest sub oceanic mountain ranges taking such a hit and the possibility that the displacement of one of these large mountains could cause sunami’s or trigger even greater complications with the volcanic activity on iceland.

  4. Steve Allen says

    Great to see that someone is trying to stimulate debate on this topic. I live in San Jose, CA, close to the San Andreas fault and follow the USGS data closely. I have been logging and analysing earthquake data for several years, and believe that there is a reasonable correlation between M3.0+ quakes and larger events along defined fault lines. It is interesting to note that in the weeks prior to Loma Prieta in 1989, the number of earthquakes in the region went from 10’s per week, to >100/day…. What is really missing with USGS is any commentary and overview of shorter term trends and events. Long term studies published very infrequently are of little value if there is a short term increase in magnitude 3-6 earthquakes. Is there any organization/body that takes an independent view and tries to interpret at the ‘big picture’ level on a regular basis?

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your astute commentary. As for other organizations? This is a good question and I am looking into it. The USGS is a very good storehouse of information of the type you mention. The acute data there is quite good too, but as you say, lacking in analysis compared with other variables in the short term. I asked them some questions like this in light of the Chile event, because of the proximity to very large volcanoes there. The response was scientific, but only from the point of lacking correlative data.

      The end answer was, “of course a major earthquake beneath certain volcanic activity could cause an event.” As for other more exacting science, I think they have some but are not sure to a certainty. This would be my guess. You are obviously farther along than me on this, I am relying on a “sense” for these things, call it the normative physics approach.

      Please let me know your research and findings on the subject Steve, many people come here to ask these things and I would like to inform them as best as is possible. As you already know, any movement on Earth of the magnitude of an earthquake has an effect. These atypical events, near Spain earlier, are cause for me to wonder even more.


    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Cliff, You got that right my friend. :) Are you applying for the job? As you can see, I have no time to even thoroughly proof read my own stuff. :)


  5. Andrew says

    I saw there was an earthquake today in the North Atlantic ridge, and I had to find out if there were any other folk out there that realize the connections, or at least question if there is a connection. Thank you for the info.

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