Hurricanes stir up ‘stormquakes’ at the bottom of the sea, scientists discover

The phenomenon of a hurricane and an earthquake happening at the same time now has a name: Stormquake. Scientists discovered this natural disaster combo in a new study. 

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, says that during a stormquake, a hurricane causes the seafloor to rumble like a 3.5-magnitude earthquake. Apparently, it’s super common, but since no one is on the seafloor, it’s only noticeable with a special type of military sensor, the Associated Press reports. 

The study’s lead author, Wenyuan Fan, a seismologist at Florida State University, said a stormquake doesn’t pose a threat to people. 

“This is the last thing you need to worry about,” Fan told the Associated Press. 

The science behind stormquakes is this: When large storms occur over the sea, they cause a secondary type of wave that interacts directly with the seafloor in certain places that cause the seafloor to shake. Stormquakes are more likely to happen in spots in the sea where there’s flat, shallow land and a large continental shelf.

Stormquakes are providing scientists new insight into the Earth’s surface and the effects of massive storms. 

“Stormquakes thus provide new coherent sources to investigate Earth structure in locations that typically lack both seismic instrumentation and earthquakes,” the study reads. “Moreover, they provide a new geophysical observable with high spatial and temporal resolution with which to investigate ocean eave dynamics during large storms.”

According to the study, 14,077 stormquakes happened between September 2006 and February 2015. Locations of these stormquakes include the Gulf of Mexico, New England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and British Columbia. 

Hurricane Ike, which affected the Caribbean Islands and Texas in 2008, and Hurricane Irene that struck the East Coast in 2011 both created lots of stormquakes in their paths. 

When a large earthquake occurs on the ocean floor, that’s when you have to worry about the potential of a tsunami, but those earthquakes usually clock in at a 7.6 magnitude or higher. 

Stormquakes are interesting phenomena since hurricanes are predictable and can be tracked for their strength and path, but earthquakes are more random and can happen at any time. 

Still, scientists might be closer to being able to predict when land earthquakes might happen. In lab tests involving simulated tabletop earthquakes, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico demonstrated that machine-learning technology could play a role in predicting major tremors by analyzing acoustic signals to find failing fault lines.