A Google search using the words “earthquake trends”1 reveals that earthquakes have been on a lot of peoples’ minds. But it’s not just since Haiti. As one high profile earthquake gives way to another, the Internet clearly indicates that many people are starting to ask questions. It’s interesting to note the different interpretations of what is perceived by many to be an increase in either the frequency or strength of earthquakes in recent years. This post takes a look at some of the popular stories currently circulating about earthquakes. They constitute the common beliefs that many people share about earthquakes and how they relate to contemporary societies. As such, it is felt that these stories represent modern folktales about earthquakes.
The End of the World
The first article that shows up in a Google search conducted on January 23, 2010, using the search terms, “earthquake trends,”2 is titled, “EARTHQUAKES – WHAT ARE THE LONG TERM TRENDS?” and offers some interesting data about the number of earthquakes since 1863. The article uses this information to conclude that an apparent rise in the frequency of powerful earthquakes is an indication that the Second Coming of Christ is near. In support of this conclusion, if offers the following background on the End Times foretold in the Bible:
“Speaking of the signs that will happen, leading to his return to judge the peoples of earth (at the end of the age), Jesus is quoted as saying ‘in various places there will be famines and earthquakes – these things are the beginning of birth pangs’ (ref: Matthew 24). Now, because birth pains begin small and then increase in intensity and frequency, this passage can be interpreted to mean that earthquakes (and famines – caused primarily through lack of rainfall in certain areas) will increase both in frequency and impact/strength prior to Jesus’ second coming. Although Jesus is clear that no one will know the day or the hour, and his return will indeed happen “when you do not expect”, he does give us broad pointers, one of these being natural events – like earthquakes.”
The article cites its sources as Wikipedia, the United States Geological Soctiety (USGS), and a chart created by DL Research published at http://www.dlindquist.com/. It uses this information to demonstrate the increase of powerful earthquakes over the last century, particularly the last 30 years or so, noting that there were 99 earthquakes 7.0 or greater from 1997 – 2007 compared with 15 for the previous period. The article also offers statistics starting in 1863 to demonstrate a long-term increase in powerful earthquakes.
Other Web Sites that Connect Earthquakes with Eschatology and/or Punishment
The author(s) of the article mentioned above is not alone. A Google search using the words, “earthquake end times”3 reveals over 21 million results. Here is a brief look at a tiny fraction of other sites out there that see a link between earthquakes and divine punishment, or see earthquakes as signal that the end is near.
The Institute for Creation Research, a Christian-based organization, offers a scholarly article about earthquakes and the end of the world titled, “EARTHQUAKES AND THE END TIMES: A GEOLOGICAL AND BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE“. The first paragraph of the piece’s introduction states:
“According to a number of Christian writers and teachers on Bible prophecy, Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse that a pronounced increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes would occur just prior to His return to the earth. Many of the same writers and teachers claim that the decade of the 1990s has experienced a pronounced increase in both the frequency and intensity of earthquakes as compared to the earlier decades of the twentieth century. This coincidence of Jesus’ prophetic statement and recent seismic events is viewed by these writers and teachers as clear demonstration of the nearness of the return of Christ.”
According to End Times News, another Christian-oriented web site, earthquakes “have been used by the Lord to convey a message to a wicked society that they must repent & turn around!”
There is, of course, Pat Robertson’s infamous remarks how the devastation caused by the January 12, 2010, earthquake was really divine retribution for a 200 year-old pact with Satan.
Mr. Robertson, however, is not alone in such beliefs. The Landover Baptist Church offers an article on its web site titled, ” God Kicks Off End Times Killing Spree With Indian Earthquake” (presumably referring to the January 26, 2001, Indian 7.9 earthquake that killed over 20,000 people). According to the article4, Pastor Deacon Fred thought it was “exhilarating to be able to see the Lord’s wrath in action,” a reference to the piles of dead bodies captured in missionary videos. The good pastor believes that God is upset that people in India are “walking around worshiping cows instead of Jesus.” He takes this opportunity to remind his flock that “…you can only mess with the Lord’s patience for so long before He starts killing.”
Christianity sans the New Testament.
For more about some Christians’ conviction that earthquakes are currently playing a role in what they see as impending Apocalypse, reference “China Earthquake End Times Prophecy“ now playing on YouTube.
There are many more videos like this one out there.
It would be interesting to consider why the end of the world is so popular among so many contemporary Christians.
2012: The End of the World
Hollywood has not overlooked the huge appeal that end-of-the-world subjects have nowadays. In the last couple of years two major movies involving natural disasters and Armageddon have been released: “2012 Doomsday“ (2008) and “2012: We Were Warned” (2009), both of which incorporate elements of Mayan and Christian apocalypse mythology. In the words of one reviewer, more end-of-the-world disaster porn. Be that as it may, the subject’s popularity is quite real. We Were Warned’s opening weekend ranked as the 9th highest disaster movie of all time, grossing $164,767,722, according to Box Office Mojo.
Business as Usual
Confound it! There is no rising earthquake trend! So says the mainstream scientific community.
According to Scott Pike, earth science professor at Willamette University, there is no increase in earthquakes to be worried about. In a November, 2005, post on the University’s blog titled, Rock and Roll: Disturbing New Earthquake Trends, Pike states that there are about 1.5 million earthquakes each year, which he claims are a normal amount. (The United States Geological Society estimates that there are actually more like several million earthquakes annually—this includes very small ones and those in remote areas.) The blog, however, does not specify whether the magnitude of earthquakes has also remained constant.
Pike’s rationale for why the world has witnessed such devastating earthquakes in recent years is based on population growth, environmental degradation, such as deforestation, and poorly conceived urban development.
He likens tectonic plates to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that are constantly shifting. Earthquakes are therefore nothing more than necessary structural consequences.
“The plates don’t move gradually, but in jerky motions,” he said. “They slam into or away from each other, or slide past each other, causing land displacement.
If natural disasters are worse today, it’s because human actions have created the conditions that can lead to high death tolls. In some ways this is reassuring because it reminds us that we—mankind—are still in control of our own destinies. If Pandora’s box is being opened, it’s because of our own stupidity. Under this view, divine forces are conspiring to wipe us out only insofar as our own thoughtless actions set in motion natural consequences governed by cause and effect. To control the situation, we simply need to be smarter, perhaps less greedy. Looked at from the standpoint that we are creating our own apocalypse is, admittedly, somewhat less reassuring.
The mainstream scientific way of looking at earthquakes often comes with reminders how people aren’t focused on the mundane things that’ll make for a safer world. This view is projected in a September 3, 2008, article in Time Magazine, titled, “Why Disasters are Getting Worse. It answers the question pretty much the same way Professor Pike did. Catastrophe due to natural disasters is commonplace and natural. The difference today is that development is hurrying along, eager to make a profit, without planning wisely and, moreover, failing to understand the importance of natural protections (such as mangrove forests and wetlands) in mitigating the effects of floods and tidal surges. As huts are replaced with houses in many parts of the developing world, poor construction in areas ill-suited to withstanding earthquakes is often the rule and not the exception. But the developing world is not alone in this dilemma. As populations increase in rich countries, like the U.S., many areas prone to natural disasters have experienced the highest growth rates. For more, see the Natural Disasters of the World post on ModernFolktales.com.
In the Time article, Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, reminds readers that people are seldom concerned about “where they live, about design and construction, about building inspection, fire protection. These just aren’t things that are on people’s minds.”
Perhaps it would be wiser to develop South Dakota than South Florida. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting for this to happen, the question that Tierney and Pike raise is whether answers like this are conclusive. In other words, for divine or scientific reasons, has a chain of events already been put in motion that will cause natural disasters, such as earthquakes, to occur with greater frequency and/or intensity? A cycle that, if not somehow interrupted, will lead to increasingly severe catastrophes? Consciously or unconsciously, these are the questions that many people have today about the severe natural disasters they seem to plague the world in greater quantities and possible to a more severe extent. Rightly or wrongly, many people instinctively feel this.
According to an earlier post on this web site titled, “Global Earthquake Trends 1900 – 2010,” the number of deadly earthquakes has increased significantly over the last century. Yet this could be entirely consistent with the explanations given above. Or, for that matter, with any of the explanations provided above.
To resolve this, it may be helpful to turn to an authority on earthquakes, such as the U.S. Geological Survey and see what they have to say about all this.
Seventeen Major Earthquakes and One Great Shaker Per Year
According to the USGS, data since 1900 suggests that each year the world can expect about 17 major earthquakes registering 7.0 to 7.9 and one big one registering 8.0 or more. It almost reads like a formula. Stable and real; something to hang your coat on.
But if this true, then why do so many in the general public suspect that earthquakes may be increasing? On a web page titled, “Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?,” the USGS answers the question by explaining that more people are interested in natural disasters today. Also, more seismograph stations—8,000 today compared to 350 in the 1930s—mean more earthquakes are reported. It sounds good on the surface, yet raises some questions.
First of all, the better technology explanation ignores the question of powerful quakes. It’s hard to believe that significant tremblors in the 7.0 and up vicinity went unnoticed in populated areas even in times as technologically remote as 1930. If so, then there should be sufficient amounts of data on file for strong earthquakes for most, if not all, of the 20th Century. It would be interesting to compare the numbers of these quakes by year. It’s too bad that the USGS web site does not offer this information. Providing an annual average over the last 100 may be helpful when comparing centuries but not when one is looking for intra-century trends. While 100 years is typically a geologically insignificant period of time, the 20th Century, with global warming and everything else, is highly unusual.
Unfortunately, the weight of USGS’s explanation to the question of a rise in earthquakes rests on there being a widespread interest in natural disasters among the general public. This is really an answer by implication only. The implication being that people think there are more earthquakes today because they’re paying more attention to them. Yet itself raises other questions. The obvious being why a greater interest in earthquakes nowadays?
It will be interesting to see whether the 17 major earthquake average will hold for this year and subsequent years. ModerFolktales.com has launched its very own earthquake tracker that will map all earthquakes 6.0 and stronger from January 9th, 2010, forward. It will be interesting to see what the outcome is in the years ahead.
Scientists Shaken by Coincidence of Killer Quakes
At 6:48 AM local time, a massive 8.1 magnitude earthquake—the largest of 2009—struck Samoa wiping out entire villages. It killed 149 people along with 34 more on American Samoa. According to official reports, sea levels rose more than 3 inches at the quake’s epicenter. Scientists estimate that waves reached up to 46 feet on the Samoan coast, further evidence of its enormous power.8 A couple of hours later, a second massive earthquake struck. Slightly less powerful at magnitude 7.6, this one was also horribly destructive, killing at least 600 people. But it wasn’t in Samoa. It was over 6,000 miles away in Indonesia. Days later, two powerful earthquakes struck the Vanuatu Islands in the South Pacific just west of Samoa. The first measured a 7.8 and was followed minutes later by another powerful 7.3 convulsion.
Standard seismological analysis often dismisses ideas that distant earthquakes are connected. But the quakes in Indonesia and Samoa are causing at least two experts to reconsider conventional thinking. According to an article9 in The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, Gary Gibson, senior seismologist at Environmental Systems and Services consulting group, is searching for a link between the unusual occurrence.
“It’s remarkable. I’ve been working on this for 30 years and never seen it before,” said Gibson.
He’s not alone in his doubts. According to the same article, University of Queensland’s Huilin Xing is also challenging accepted science by also speculating about the possibility of a connection between the two.
“For two great earthquakes to occur within hours in such a way, it is abnormal.” Xing said.
Xing postulates that the same plate movement could have triggered both earthquakes notwithstanding their great distance from each other.
Although other experts are sticking to conventional wisdom, claiming there’s no connection, Gibson is candid about his doubts.
“I don’t deny that I don’t know something. It is possible there’s something more. We don’t know what’s happening down there, really.”
Simultaneous Terrestrial, Solar Magnetic Polarity Reversals
The October 17th, 2006, online edition of the India Daily offers a rather bizarre editorial titled, “Exponential increase in earthquakes continues to escalate – world’s every hotspot boiling again – 2012 mega earthquake?” It claims that geophysicists are blaming tectonic plate movements on a reversal of the earth’s magnetic polarity, an occurrence that, readers are told, is expected to coincide with a solar polarity flip in 2012 (note the year), a singular event that is supposed to make earthquakes especially bad. Not to be outdone by itself, the article concludes with the statement that some scientists believe that “smaller earthquakes are the results of covert experiments…or experiments of the extraterrestrials.”
The idea of magnetic polar reversals causing earthquakes and other natural disasters can also be found many other web sites. One has even incorporated this into its domain name and can be found at www.PoleReversal.com. According to the site, the earth is being disturbed “by solar polar reversal. In our modern age we have not experienced a simultaneous solar and terrestrial polar reversal. Between now and 2012, these disturbances will keep increasing making earth’s crust and tectonic plates very disturbed causing severe volcanoes and earthquakes.”
Another at 2012era.com cites articles from India Daily to support its own piece titled, “Recent Sumatra earthquakes precursor to probable mega Volcano in 2012 that can end human civilization.”
University of Metaphysical Sciences claims that a simultaneous solar-terrestrial polar flip is the “scientific premise” of the 2012: We Were Warned movie. The idea is a change in the earth’s magnetic field would be exacerbated by a coincident reversal of the sun’s polarity (a normal change that takes place every 11 years). This would destabilize tectonic plates and, according to believers, cause the earth to spin in the opposite direction, which, in turn will agitate oceans, setting off massive floods and tsunamis.
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- which can be found on the church’s web site at http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news0201/quakes.html [↩]
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- “Danny Glover: Haiti Earthquake Caused By Global Warming”, 01-15-2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/15/danny-glover-haiti-earthq_n_425160.html. [accessed 01-23-2010] [↩]
- Bill McGuire, 08-07-2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/aug/07/disasters. [accessed 01-23-2010] [↩]
- Wikipedia contributors, “2009 Samoa earthquake,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 01-17-2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2009_Samoa_earthquake&oldid=338311066. [accessed 01-23-2010] [↩]
- “Killer quakes shake scientific thought”, The Hindu, 10-15-2009, http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/seta/2009/10/15/stories/2009101550131300.htm. [accessed 01-23-2010] [↩]