Geologists have warned that deadly earthquakes could become more frequent in the coming year and that they are likely to be caused by the slowing down of the Earth's rotation.
"The correlation between Earth's rotation and natural disaster activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year", Bilham told the Observer last week.
As the Earth rotates on its axis once in a roughly 24 hour period, a slowdown in rotation thus impacts the length of a day.
The warnings from experts came just days after a strong quake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit the Iran-Iraq border resulting in the death of more than 530 people. As they say, they found (approximately every 30 years) with a significantly higher frequency of severe earthquakes, about 25 to 30 per year, compared with about 15 earthquakes averaging over the other periods. In a study published in August in Geophysical Research Letters, geophysicists Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana and Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado claim to have found a correlation between changes in the Earth's rotation and seismic activity. "We have had it easy this year", the Guardian reported he said.
"Consequently", Bilham said, "we will see a significant increase in the numbers of major earthquakes over time".
"The rotation of the Earth does change slightly - by a millisecond a day sometimes - and that can be measured very accurately by atomic clocks", said Bilham.
But while scientists may have found a pattern that will allow them to predict periods of significant seismic activity, there's still no way to predict when or where an natural disaster will happen.
"The pair found that the Earth's rotation began one of its "slow" periods, indicating that more earthquakes are on the way". "The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes", said Bilham.
"The inference is clear". If the two geophysicists' research is correct, 2018 should bring a significant increase in the number of major earthquakes. This year we made it clean.
"We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018".
Scientists have long known that tidal friction caused by the moon's effect on Earth is gradually causing the Earth's rotation to slow. Until now, we only had six powerful earthquakes.
In addition, it is hard to predict where these extra earthquakes will occur, although Bilham said they found that most of the intense earthquakes that responded to changes in day length seemed to occur near the equator.
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