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EarthquakesScienceSpace

Did the Impending 'Super Moon' Cause Japan's Earthquake?

A full moon is visible in this view above Earth's horizon and airglow, photographed by Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao on the International Space Station.

In a few days (March 19) the Moon will enter a “maximal perigee” — bringing it closer to the Earth than it has been in over 18 years. The average distance between the the Earth and the Moon is about 238, 000 miles (382,900 km) and this current perigee will bring it around 17,000 miles (about 10, 500 27,500 km) closer.

It is believed that the effect of the perigee will be enhanced by the fact of a full moon also occurring at the same time.

This tighter orbit is believed by some to mean a dramatic increase in tidal forces and this current pass has been dubbed a “super moon” by an astrologer named Richard Nolle.

The same astronomer astrologer has also predicted that such a close perigee would/must somehow perturb the earth’s (tectonic) integrity so much that it will trigger major earthquakes and even volcanoes (not simply severe storms). Although he is not clear on the exact lunar-geo-mechanisms that would produce these quakes, never-the-less this lunar-induced disaster scenario quickly set the Web abuzz with yet another wave of doom-and-gloom “apocalypticism.”

Timing is everything.

And then, this past Friday the world learned of the disastrous news from Japan. Is the impending “super moon” somehow responsible for this massive quake…and, are more on the way?

As to the first question…

Not likely, according to scientist Jim Garvin of NASA’ s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who notes that the moon’s effects on the Earth have been extensively studied over many decades, and who also issued a press release on the causes of the supermoon.

Quoting from the release:

“The effects on Earth from a supermoon are minor, and according to the most detailed studies by terrestrial seismologists and volcanologists, the combination of the moon being at its closest to Earth in its orbit, and being in its ‘full moon’ configuration (relative to the Earth and sun), should not affect the internal energy balance of the Earth since there are lunar tides every day,”

Earth's lunar orbit perturbation
Earth's lunar orbit perturbation basics

“…the combination of the moon being at its closest to Earth in its orbit, and being in its ‘full moon’ configuration (relative to the Earth and sun), should not affect the internal energy balance of the Earth…”  – Jim Garvin, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA

The gravitational “pull” of the Moon, in combination with the Earth’s rotation and movement in space (and the pull of the Sun on both bodies), is the complex cause of tidal forces (which we see as high, low, spring/leap, and neap tides) but the energy of this force is no match for the energy coming from within our planet. Garvin writes:

“The Earth has stored a tremendous amount of internal energy within its thin outer shell or crust, and the small differences in the tidal forces exerted by the moon (and sun) are not enough to fundamentally overcome the much larger forces within the planet due to convection (and other aspects of the internal energy balance that drive plate tectonics).”

Animation of the Moon as it cycles through its phases. The apparent wobbling of the Moon is known as libration.
Animation of the Moon as it cycles through its phases. The apparent wobbling of the Moon is known as libration.

So, the visual effect of the full moon may make it seem bigger (like a “big pizza pie”, as the song goes), even though the difference in distance is only a few percent — an amount (and a “gravitational effect”) small enough that most would hardly ever notice, were it a new Moon, and were there no would-be, latter-day Nostradamuses.

As to the second question (are more on the way?)…

We should always look to where we live first before we look to the heavens to solve Earthly mysteries;  Japan sits atop a tectonic plate ridge that is continuously undergoing subduction and elevation, the main causes of earthquakes (and volcanoes) in this region of the Pacific ‘ring of fire’.

More things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio.

Fun Fact: Gravitational anomalies slightly distorting the orbits of the Lunar Orbiters led to the discovery of mass concentrations (dubbed mascons), beneath the lunar surface caused by large impacting bodies at some remote time in the past. These anomalies are significant enough to cause a lunar orbit to change significantly over the course of several days. [And yet, we don’t notice these changes at all]. (source: wikipedia.org).

Some source material for this post came from NASA Scientist Explains Science Behind ‘Supermoon’ Phenomenon.

Top Image: A full moon is visible in this view above Earth’s horizon and airglow, photographed by Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Lunar Perturbation Diagram: Geologician (slight correction by Homunculus 2); Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Lunar Phase Animation: Tomruen

Top Japan Nuclear News and Nuclear Politics News (March 15)




30 comments
    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Gregory:

      I’m sorry, but this is an incorrect attribution. Just as there is NO correlation (even a weak one) between the Moon’s perigee and increased frequency/severity of earthquakes, likewise, there is zero correlation between solar flares and earthquakes (and/or volcanoes).

      Folks, check with the any University seismology department or monitoring agency for severe earthquakes (or increased frequency of said quakes) just before, on, and just after the perigee….you will find no statistically (or obvious) significant difference in said quake frequency/severity.

  1. mchammerstein

    I think that Jenny has a very good point about there being several variables working in conjunction with the “super moon” phenomena. Surely the added weight of 6.5 billion humans and their discarded waste, the various experiments exploring the quantum universe and the HAARP experiments taking place in the northern hemisphere could all affect the earth energy/ “super moon” effects.
    If you get nothing else from this post….. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE google HAARP!!

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      The “added weight of 6.5 billion people” (and their discarded waste) is always present, everyday of the year…and since waste is simply transformed/altered raw material, that weight too is already accounted for…the HAARP array and/or ‘experiments” (which cannot be proven as this is a DARPA controlled project) may have the potential to alter the ionosphere enough to alter the local weather in a given region…but alterations in the ionosphere are minute compared to what is needed to alter the geophysical/tectonic forces (coming from within our planet) such that even one earthquake might occur….

      Folks, the problem in the “multiple causes” conjecture is herein being illustrated once again: no sooner have I addressed previously conjectured causes, when someone new comes along with a DIFFERENT contributing cause (which cannot be even casually connected to the event in question)….

      …why not simply assert that EVERY conceivable known and UNKNOWN cause is responsible for the March 11 earthquake? Do you see the problem now? If everything is “the cause” (potentially), then nothing is the cause….and there is no science, only magic and superstition…

      What amazes me is why it seems so difficult for so many to accept that earthquakes are caused by EARTHLY forces, not celestial ones (at least not these)? I have a feeling that many such folks may be harboring a secret belief in astrology or some other “cosmic” influence belief system…

      …thus, these folks are reluctant to accept that the moon (or some other planetary body) has only the tiniest influence on earthly events (including the tides). Many of us want to believe that earthly events are all connected to the cosmos…they are seeking that “ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo” (Ginsberg)…but they are looking in the wrong place.

  2. Michael Ricciardi

    I did not hear about this; it seems not to have made national news. My guess is the quake was not very large. Small quakes occur nearly every day, somewhere on the planet.

    The telling data here will be if the frequency and/or intensity of quakes increases (relative to non lunar perigee passes) between now and Sunday or Monday (Saturday being the actual, maximal perigee).

  3. Norman

    Question, earth’s second more,( not really a moon) An astroid that got caught in our gravitational feild which sometimes briefly comes into orbit, but then leaves. it’s orbit is very unsatble. What will happen to this little rock if exsposed to these events for any significant time? I’ve sent emails to scientists even Nasa, nobody replies back, how come? anybody.

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Norman:

      I recall what you are referring to…it is possible that an asteroid could fly between the Earth and moon when the Moon is at perigee…but I suspect hat the speed of the asteroid, and the brevity of the Moon’s perigee, would make it unlikely to be dragged into a close pass (or even a hit) of the Earth…if that is your question/concern.

      Of course, an unstable orbit/path can do odd things…but that also makes any event (close pas) difficult to predict…

  4. sh

    Science has a problem. If it cannnot measure a thing, it assumes that it doesnt exist. And later when it invents some devices to measure it, science then changes it stand.

  5. chris

    Actually, scientist have no way to figure out the triggering of an earthquake. they have no idea. This is only a prediction. Simple and short. Our earth is holding on by the things in the universe.

  6. Martin

    An 8% difference in the distance between Earth and the Moon is not trivial. And the claim “The effects on Earth from a supermoon are minor” is ludicrous when one does the math. 8% closer corresponds to an increase in the gravitational force exerted on the Earth by 18%. If the pull from the Moon at it’s normal distance is sufficient to cause an equatorial bulge, what would a nearly 20% increase do? Think for yourselves and answer that question. Don’t rely on “experts” who 500 years ago were so convinced the Earth was flat and 400 years ago were claiming to be at the center of the universe.

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Martin (and Jason):

      First, there’s no assertion here that the weather effects earthquakes — I’m not sure where that came from or to whom you are speaking….

      As to the 7-8% difference in distance not being insignificant, or “minor”, if I was to trust anyone, it would be someone who actually studies this phenomenon, professionally, and has the tools to do so…

      “ludicrous”? Not really. It’s non-sensational, for sure.

      First, the ‘equatorial bulge’ is not caused by the moon, per se, but by the Earth’s rotation and interaction of the Earth-Moon system (and in conjunction with the sun-moon-Earth system)…the equatorial bulge roughly follows the barycenter of the Earth-Moon coupled system (which is coupled to the sun, etc.)..

      The problem with your argument — which on the surface sounds compelling — is that one might assume that an increase in gravitational force of 18% is huge, not knowing what the starting value (gravitational force) is (what is the force exerted by the moon when it is at its mean distance from the Earth? How is this measured?)….In fact, the gravitational force exerted by the moon on the Earth’s surface water is small (relative to the force exerted by the Earth’s own rotation and the force exerted by the Sun).

      So, an “18%” increase of a small amount of force (spread over a large area) is in fact a tiny (quantitative) increase….most would not notice it (just like most people never notice when the moon is at its apogee, or when Earth’s tide’s are at their highest due to a concurrence of lunar perigee and earth perigee to the sun).

      But whether or not you accept that argument, we should remember that the claim is that the closer moon will impact tectonics–enough to cause large Earthquakes…a claim unsupported by direct observations and extensive measurements over many decades…

      sometimes, what seems to make sense (and what we want to be true)…simply doesn’t…and isn’t.

  7. Jenny

    Why is it some people only consider one variable when trying to determine a cause and effect. Couldn’t it be several variables causing the issues in Japan? Maybe a combination of other variables is causing the planet to change in an extreame way. For example the climate cycle the Earth is in, the Super Moon, the Earth’s magnetic field changing, among other issues that alone would seem insignificant but together spell catastrophe. Then maybe after something is triggered such as a major earthquake the insignificant becomes very significant triggering other disasters such as volcanoes errupting. As humans have a very short life span, can we ever be certain of cause and effect of something such as the disasters in Japan, without the big picture over hundreads of thousands of years?

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Jenny:

      The length of the human lifespan should not impact the quality of data collected over time (only the method of collection can do that)…sure, there could be multiple causes…but again, where do you draw the line — not until one has noted so many (composite) causes that it becomes impossible to calculate all of them (their cumulative impact) or determine which is the main contributor?

      One could find no end of contributing causes if one had no means of discriminating between them (which is the point/role of science)

      …and let’s not forget that this article is in response to the claim of a SINGLE cause — the supermoon.

      …but I do concede your point about the long-term/big picture, just not for lunar-induced forces (which are happening and observable in real time)…but perhaps via Milankovitch cycles.

      …but I suspect strongly that one day we will be able to predict earthquakes…but we will accomplish this by deepening our understanding of the interior of the Earth (see The Deep Earth project at In Search of Missing Carbon & Life – ‘Deep Earth’ Mission Planned)

    2. Martin

      The climate has NOTHING to do with causing either volcanoes or earthquakes. However, volcanoes and earthquakes do cause changes in climate. 1 large volcanic explosion puts more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than all the cars every built.

  8. Andy Sickle

    Scientific credibility is questionable when you equate 17,000 miles to (about) 10,500 km. Either 10,500 miles (which equals approximately 17,000 km) or 17,000 miles (which equals approximately 27,500 km). In either case, the science here is very, very thin…

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Andy:
      Sorry, my metric conversion is off, thank you for spotting that; obviously, the number of kilometers is greater that the number of miles, since a kilometer is .62 of 1 mile, I simply forgot to ADD the 10,000 km amount to the miles figure 🙂 I will note that the first miles-metric conversion is accurate 🙂

      Regardless, that’ s a simple correction in math, an DOES NOT change the scientific assertion (or the physical reality) that this closer lunar pass will not appreciably impact tectonic plate movements.

      For you to assert otherwise is, on the basis of a simple conversion error, is perhaps telling of your preconceptions about this phenomenon

  9. Tara

    There is enough coincidence to make me believe without scientific proof. The world was once flat. Someday a new scientist will open his or her mind to explore the possibilities of some concept that doesn’t exist today and find a connection. I hope to be around to read about it.

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Tara:

      Coincidence, in my view, is seldom sufficient to make me “believe” in anything…rather, it prompts me to dig/think more deeply, and to put aside what I believe or want to be true.

      BTW, the world was never “flat”; there was a time when “common sense” (and the lack of reading ability and/or access to ancient Greek science) led people to believe this, but it was never true.

      …in fact, Eratosthenes proved the curvature of the Earth in something like 349 BCE…

      As for this concept (of a supermoon causing earthquakes), the putative connections have been/are already being explored (with open, but scientific, minds) and so far, no causal “connection” has been found.

      At what point does one give up and move on to a new (perhaps better) hypothesis?

      In science, one variable is easier to determine (“control for”) than multiple ones, which is not to say that scientists don’t recognize multiple causes for a single phenomenon (such as in weather/climate simulations)…but, if the impact of these putative other causes is so minute, or so indeterminate, then the claim of causation cannot be validated…then these would-be causes are generally eliminated from consideration.

      You may not like this, but that’s how science works — and what makes it such a powerful tool fro predicting outcomes,

  10. Just Asking

    Maybe there’s no correlation because monitoring of earthquakes is so variable itself. How reliable are our methods? Do we count quakes together adding up the total amount of energy released each day globally?

    1. Michael R.

      Well, certain regions are continuously monitored for seismic disturbances (such as here in the Pac NW) and have been for many years (plus there are the historical records of quakes even in the absence of scientific monitoring), and, the Moon’s perigees and apogees (or any point in between) can be easily calculated going back centuries….so, it would not take a great deal of data hunting to plot Moon perigees with earthquake occurrences.

      As to your second question, I’m not sure if we do, or if this can be done reliably, since there are many small quakes (around the globe) that are so small (but which cumulatively, might add up to some significant quantity) they go unnoticed.

      Also, some of the energy from the earth’s interior is not stored (in the crust) but is released/transformed (a tsunami wave would be one form of this) at the surface. This can certainly trigger other quakes and even volcanoes.

      It is hard to accept, apparently, that something as “large” as the Moon, coming closer in its orbit, would not have a major (forceful) impact on the Earth…or that the Earth’s own geological forces would be far stronger and outweigh the effects (if any) of moon-induced tidal forces.

  11. Pat

    17/238, that’s 7% closer than average.
    By how much will be tide be affected?
    What is corresponding the weight of the water movement?
    Could this be the straw that broken the camel’s back?

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Pat:

      This is a fair question, and the basis of a decent hypothesis.

      As far as I know, and have been able to research, there is no clear, causal connection between lunar perigees and earthquake frequency or severity. High frequency earthquake “flaps” appear to be variable in the historical record, they occur in all moments of the lunar orbit.

      The “straw that broke the camel’s back” is a difficult postulate to disprove: was the super moon the last straw? It may appear to be so, but only because it was the last “straw” (casual connection) that one chooses to remember, or notice, before claiming causality. But other causes (deep earth, internal ones) may be the “true trigger of the wave”, as an old naturalist colleague liked to say…

      In all honesty, Science does not fully understand the workings of the geodynamo. But we do have a highly refined ability to correlate data. And while correlation is not causation, a strong enough correlation, can indicate that we’re on to something, that a causal connection lies in there somewhere…but so far, though it has tried to find one, science has not found a direct causal link between the proximity of the moon to the Earth and the severity or frequency of earthquakes.

    1. Michael R.

      Tara:

      What possible “glory’ could be derived (by any just/loving god) from mass destruction and suffering? How does causing hardship, suffering, and loss of life “glorify” god?

  12. Jeff Masters

    The pending super moon was merely the trigger, not the cause. You could say the hair that broke the camels back. We know the fault line boundary locks and stores potential energy for hundreds of years between ruptures, and then an extra close moon or sun phase can act as the trigger mechanism that sets it off. Its just plain logic.

    1. Michael Ricciardi

      Jeff Masters:

      Ok, I’ll bite, how did you determine that the impending supermoon was the trigger of the quake? How did you exclude other potential causes?

      Oh, and pleas explain your statement ” We know….” Who is this we and where did they publish the results of their study determining this trigger effect/impact?

      I would be curious to know how the casual chain from the trigger to the final cause that caused the quake was determined.

      Bring it on.

      1. Jason

        A seven percent difference in the distance is a significant factor, adding that the closer the object is to each other, the force of the attraction is greater, so that the attracting force is greater that just seven percent.

        1. Raven

          While it makes sense to believe that a 7% closeness is not small, we should also consider the fact that this 7% is not an overnight phenomenon. The apogee and perigee happens over a period of time and hence the supposition that exactly at 7% something will happen and not at 6.5% is very hypothetical.

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