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Even seasoned scientists were surprised by a rare 5.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Thursday afternoon off the northern coast of Cuba, rattling residents on both sides of the Florida Straits.
“There is no question that it is unusual where it hit,” said Timothy Dixon, a University of South Florida geophysics professor and earthquake expert. “I have no clue why this earthquake happened."
Dixon said the earthquake — centered about 112 miles east of Havana in coastal waters — happened about 300 miles from a major fault line between southern Cuba and Hispaniola.
“Scientists are definitely going to be looking at this one,” he said. “Earthquakes happen periodically in Cuba, but in the south.”
The earthquake, which occurred at 3:58 p.m., was not strong enough to cause serious damage, but people reported feeling its effects across the Florida Keys and as far north as Cape Coral on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Now the big question remains; how are the earthquakes related to dangerous gases. This is a theory proposed a few years back in a book by James McGuire entitled Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, where the author states that the melting ice at the poles relieves pressure on the earth’s continental plates. The slightest pressure change will cause tectonic movement resulting in earthquakes. Basically, as the atmosphere heats up, we are experiencing a rapid thawing of Arctic ice. As the ice retreats, all that weight relieves pressure on the Earth’s crust which would naturally cause it to adjust.
According to an article on NPR.org the summer of 2012 saw the most dramatic ice melt in several thousand years. It literally smashed records. Of course there is always melt in the summer time, about half the ice, but the article points out three quarters of the ice melted this past summer. The previous record for ice melt was in 2007, also within the time frame of the rapid methane increase in the atmosphere. The additional ice melt this year was the size of Texas. That’s a lot of ice and a lot of weight on the continental plates.
As the ice retreats relieving pressure on those plates, it causes the water levels to rise, which is another point of pressure on the Earth’s crust. Keep in mind that the plates underneath the oceans are more fragile than land-based plates. Taking that into consideration, you can see that it’s not going to take much extra mass to cause seismic instability. Every square mile of water that is one meter deep is nearly 6 billion pounds. Sure, the waters haven’t risen that much, but consider any additional height is going to add billions of pounds of extra mass into the oceans and the level of the water rising isn’t going to be the same throughout the globe. Some areas are going to experience more sea level rise than others. That’s more pressure on certain areas which would heighten the seismic activity.