Doom and Gloom: Sunspots, Volcanoes and Earthquakes. Famine, Disease and Pestilence.

Sunspots, Volcanoes and Earthquakes

The problem with being merely human is, compared to the vast scales of planetary time, we are but brief and oh, so vapid bubbles. Our capacity to glimpse and somewhat comprehend the eons that have proceeded us, for the most part, only serves to frustrate and confuse.

It is precisely because our brains, and by extension our minds, are geared with pattern recognition and pattern synthesis as built in survival mechanisms, that we valiantly strive to “make sense” of our world, our universe. Some make sense of their world by becoming artists, archeologists or doctors. Others become psychologist, biologist or astrophysicists. And some, eschewing any attempts to understand, keep it simple by “leaving it to god”.

Others leave it to god, but hedge their bets with virgin sacrifices. This, if you think about it, has more in common with the scientific contingent. Reducing action to a simple experiment: A “What happens if ?” question. Where the scientist and the priest will sometimes differ, lays in which needs a definitive outcome. And which will keep trying to prove their ideas wrong in order to obtain a repeatable result.

In times of heightened stress and uncertainty, it seems the desire to create order out of chaos becomes even more acute. If we were all roaming the savanna, keeping a wary eye out for cheetahs stalking in the tall grass, our actively engaged minds wouldn’t have time to parse out the minutia of conspiracy theories or end-time scenarios. Cheetahs are sometimes useful that way.

As a species, we have been both blessed and cursed with the ability to invent time-saving processes and devices and implement them on a massive scale. And after all those processes and devices are firmly in place, what we are left with are active minds and a lot of free time. Here is where the Brain Squirrels tend to show up.

Brain Squirrels are a side effect of attempting to solve problems and create contingencies with too little useful information. We end up running round and round in our heads, trying to make pieces from different jigsaw puzzles fit into a seamless whole; taking a piece of information here, a bit there with no regard for relevance. The end result is either a shoddy conspiracy theory or a series of valid questions we could do little about, even if we understood the problem and its answer completely. Why our weather is outside the norm. Why earthquakes happen. Why are there droughts and crop failures and starvation and so on.

Sometimes though, if you sort through enough muck, you will find something useful. Something that allows you to mark an idea off your mental checklist and ponder contingencies based on known quantities, instead of hapless conjecture.

So while I was poking around after the earthquake in Haiti, I made a few discoveries.

Some people believe there is a link between the sun and our climate. No, I’m completely serious. Stop rolling your eyes. Yes, we are all aware that the sun warms the earth. We are also aware that the lack of sun cools the earth. But this idea is more subtle and more difficult to prove directly due to the aforementioned fleeting lifespan. We simply don’t have enough long term data to make a firm case. And, as yet, the causal link has not been discovered. So bear with me here, while keeping in mind that I am not arguing a case for or against human induced climate change, but am exploring the idea of links between solar activity, volcanoes, earthquakes and climate variation on Earth.

Climate Change May Trigger Earthquakes and Volcanoes. New Scientist

Evidence of a link between climate and the rumblings of the crust has been around for years, but only now is it becoming clear just how sensitive rock can be to the air, ice and water above. “You don’t need huge changes to trigger responses from the crust,” says Bill McGuire of University College London (UCL), who organised the meeting. “The changes can be tiny.”

Among the various influences on the Earth’s crust, from changes in weather to fluctuations in ice cover, the oceans are emerging as a particularly fine controller. Simon Day of the University of Oxford, McGuire and Serge Guillas, also at UCL, have shown how subtle changes in sea level may affect the seismicity of the East Pacific Rise, one of the fastest-spreading plate boundaries.

So science generally accepts that changes in the climate have effects on volcanic activity and on the tectonic plates. If tectonic plates are affected, it seems reasonable to assume that earthquake activity is also considered under that heading.

Right now, we are in a period of increased earthquake activity where quakes have a much greater total strength:

copyright D. Lindquist


And increased volcanic activity worldwide:

copyright Michael Mandeville

From: Global Volcanism: Volcanic Activity

It is understood that volcanic eruptions spew micro-fine particles and other detritus into the atmosphere. This creates a sort of sun filter, cooling the earth by deflecting solar radiation and heat.

That would, at least in part, account for the arctic cold snap covering the Northern Latitudes.

What might account for the rest? Sunspots. Or more accurately the lack of sunspots.

Sun SpotsThe Blank Year

Note the inverse relationship between the charts further up the column and the one shown here.

According to them that study our friend the Sun, we are right at the bottom of what is known as a Solar Minimum. A Solar Minimum is defined as a time in the Sun’s regular cycle with little or no solar activity.

From the site:

The longest minimum on record, the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715, lasted an incredible 70 years. Sunspots were rarely observed and the solar cycle seemed to have broken down completely. The period of quiet coincided with the Little Ice Age, a series of extraordinarily bitter winters in Earth’s northern hemisphere. Many researchers are convinced that low solar activity, acting in concert with increased volcanism and possible changes in ocean current patterns, played a role in that 17th century cooling.

NASA scientists have also noted that the more calm the Minimum, the more quickly the Sun’s systems return to an active state. In addition there are a larger number of strong disruptive events, like solar flares.

Solar Flare

I began by looking at a geology sites on the internet to find some information on earthquake strength and frequency after they Haiti quake. Based on forum postings, the question of earthquakes and sunspot activity comes up whenever there is a major quake. And instead of addressing these concerns, the regular posters flatly and adamantly denied any direct causal link between sunspots and earthquake or volcanic activity in the usual dismissive manner of the pseudo-skeptic.

Since I’m not a fan of flat denial as it has very little to do with critical thinking, I decided to look into the question for myself. After further reading I wondered if the “skeptics” on the geology boards would be willing to admit the possibility of an indirect causal link. A chain reaction, if you will.

I discovered a site with information on a rather interesting theory. On the site M.A. Vukcevic has a formula that discusses the interaction of influence on the mass of the sun from the magnetospheres of outlying larger planets.

M.A. Vukcevic formula

This chart shows the correlation between the movement of planets Jupiter/Saturn and the incidence of recorded sunspots.

A PDF further discussing his work.

If the Sun’s mass is affected by these planetary magnetospheres, wouldn’t that suggest it is possible that the Earth’s mass, the molten core which helps to drive its magnetosphere would be affected too?

In the end, what I am suggesting is not a simple cause and effect. Instead I’m suggesting like many systems with interlinking chaotic processes, it’s a complex and dynamic cause and effect.

* Reduced sunspot activity due to planetary effects can affect how much heat the Earth receives. This begins to shift weather patterns, which in turn affect the tectonic and volcanic systems of the planet.

* The magnetospheric effects working on the Solar mass are echoed in our molten planetary core resulting in increased volcanic and tectonic activity which results in further change in the planetary weather system.

NASA scientists may not agree with Mr. Vukcevic. I have no idea whether his work is valid or supported. But the scientists at NASA do agree that sunspots, earthquakes and volcanoes are linked in some fashion. At this point they are not willing to forward a hypothesis about the correlations but agree that they are mediated by changes in climate.

Whether this goes toward supporting claims on either side of the global warming vs. global cooling debate is outside my area of interest at the moment.

Famine, Disease and Pestilence

In terms of which aspects of the sunspot/volcano activity are within the purview of my interest I direct you to to:  Nine Meals from Anarchy

“This year is the 10th anniversary of the fuel protests, when supermarket bosses sat with ministers and civil servants in Whitehall warning that there were just three days of food left. We were, in effect, nine meals from anarchy. Suddenly, the apocalyptic visions of novelists and film-makers seemed less preposterous. Civilization’s veneer may be much thinner than we like to think.”

It is certain that the recent Arctic blasts which affected much of North America, has already impacted food security in the United States.

Florida, which tends to be the warmest state during the winter, generally grows tender warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. The freeze in Florida has crippled supplies of citrus and juices, along with tender vegetables like snap beans, squash, and peppers,

While this, in and of itself, does not constitute a food crisis, the truth is many people are not the position to afford an increase in food prices. It is more along the lines of “Another straw on the camels back”.

If there is a possible link between sun cycles and an increase in deadly earthquakes, volcanoes or weather changes then we are obligated to explore those ideas. Haitians and others across the globe who have been adversely affected by these terrible tragedies are a stark testament to how little we know and how much we need to discover about our world.



  1. rogerthesurf said,

    January 15, 2010 at 6:24 am

    There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog.

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



    • January 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      Hello Roger,

      I agree with you on 2 counts: Whatever the climatic changes, the question is: can we do anything about it? The second question then becomes: Beyond cutting back on our pollution producing activities, should we do anything about it? Proactive experiments on the only environment we’ve got seem rather…..foolhardy.

      The 2nd count: We don’t have access to a lot of information that is truthful or clearly stated. In addition, I would add that we aren’t taught critical thinking as a matter of course either at home or in our educational systems. Teaching people to think for themselves is a double edged sword. And I’m pretty sure that overly- educating the downtrodden poor so that they can figure out the massive amount of deflection, deception and abuse that has gone on in the name of making a buck, would not be a good thing for some.
      No, it’s in the best interest of a good number of people to keep most of us stupid and unthinking.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I will check out your blog.

  2. Fran Manns said,

    January 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    A Message in a Bottle
    The report on my imminent death is immature. I have been sloshing around in the basins on the crust for more than four billion years. I now cover nearly 71 per cent of the planet. Since the last ice age, I have lifted myself out of the basin by 120 metres and scared the tribes of Noah to the higher ground. During deep time, I became the universal solvent for the volcanoes and the clouds. I have taken up as much salt as required by local circumstances and sometimes give it back in hot shallows and desert areas of my world. I have given man the salt in his blood. I have absorbed as much gas as I need to maintain balance with the organic world within me and on land. Your CO2 output is infinitesimally small. The exchange is so peaceful that science calls it equilibrium. I can absorb more CO2, if the plants do not need it, and it does not give me acid imbalance. My pH will remain basic no matter what you say. The variations you measure have come and gone many uncountable times on the planet and your baseline is too small to know the truth. What you do not get is that warming of the oceans releases CO2 and other gasses from my water, while cooling my water allows me to take up CO2 in vast amounts to nestle with the other molecules in my coldest most remote realms. I can absorb all that man can produce because your impact is feeble compared to my capacity.
    Please watch me with humility for you cannot change me. I am the ongoing sink for the planet, and I am huge and my heat content is beyond your estimation. Measure me here and there with your microscopes but know that I will never be that way in that place again. Open your mind to the infinite cycles of chemistry and physics and kneel on my beach. You can only hurt me by not respecting my infinite ability to change chemistry and temperature in all the corners of the seas. My CO2 feeds your plants and your plants provide all the oxygen you breathe. Your base line is infinitesimally small yet your mouth is wide open. Stop sending me your plastic water bottles.
    Poseidon, the King
    I am mostly invisible, but not space. I am the wind you breathe, the 20 km thick shell around your sphere. I am bigger than Poseidon’s realm by many times. I am oxygen, and I am 80% nitrogen. I am both water vapour and humidity. I am carbon dioxide, methane, laughing gas and ozone. Argon, neon helium, and hydrogen make my fireworks in the lightening. I heat you by convection like an oven, cool you with my wind chill, and bury you in my microscopic hexagonal crystal frost. From the poles to the equator and from your caves to Kathmandu, I cover you, feed, and water you and your plants: no wind, and there is no food worth eating, for plants or man. Over four billion years and more, I practiced my cycles. My ozone protects you from your sun’s blue rays; my methane warms your coldest nights. Your green plants whirl out my oxygen all night trading it for my CO2 in the sunshine. When you walk in your forest, be thankful for the bargain.
    Without my parts per million CO2, you would choke. Without my parts per million CO2, you would freeze. As your people grow in numbers and size, I need more CO2 to fertilize your food. In my opinion, the more fat children, the merrier, because the earth does not laugh enough. Do not pump my CO2 underground or earth will quake from the wrong as it did under Denver on August 9th1967. When you sequester, be prepared to scavenge for food, and perhaps burn your oxygen for warmth
    I am Aeolus
    Vulcan – god of fire said, “All the gasses from the mantle of the earth drive my fire and push up my liquid rock. Water affects my temper. When I foam, I am deadly. My carbon dioxide is colourless, and difficult to detect. It is heavy. It sinks and has killed many camped near Lake Nyos, in Cameroon. My sulphur dioxide is a killer too. At more than 20 ppm, it irritates, burns your eyes and is dangerous to breathe. When inhaled, most becomes sulphuric acid. My hydrogen sulphide is easy to smell, like rotten eggs. People are generally able to notice the odour; it can kill you at 50 ppm. My radon is colorless, odourless, tasteless, and radioactive. It can creep into your basement. My hydrochloric acid is colorless, but with an ‘acidic’ odour and taste, My HCl is common around blowholes and in eruptions. It can and will destroy the ozone when it blows to the top of the atmosphere. Just like the liquid acid, my vaporous acid will burn anything it touches – especially the breathers. My sulphuric acid comes in shades of brown and is odourless; exposure results in quick burns and dissolves the outer layers of the teeth. However, my worst most painful acid is hydrofluoric. It is also invisible and will cause deep burns and permanent blindness if not flushed with water. Death by hydrofluoric acid is horrible. Ask the ghosts of Iceland in 1783.
    My chimneys are scattered around the planet and one big puff like Krakatau or Pinatubo can ruin your air and cool your world. Between expulsions, my gasses are usually scattered. You will never know when I will speak and kill you because your lives are too short. My CO2 is my most benevolent gas, and I have given you parts per million for you to feed your plants. Use it carefully and do not abuse it. It is weak to fear me and not prosper. I come when I want.
    I do not respond to human sacrifice.”
    Finally, Gaia – the earth element said:
    “Among the ancient elements of Aristotle, the earth element was both cold and dry. He thought I occupied a place between water and fire. Aristotle lived a short span, just a moment ago in universal time, and he did not ask me. I am wet and dry, hot and cold, light and dark in all the rainbow colours. Gaia is rich and overflowing with goodness. My sphere vibrates with the gravity of the solar system. I ring like a bell when I quake, and if gravity dropped me, my sphere would splash like a tear. When my skin slides, I create wealth and prosperity in your copper mines. You dress to match me at your atomic scale with treasures from your tiny mines.
    I must admit, your choices of where to cluster astonish me. I guess you do not know me yet.
    I condensed more than four billion years ago as stardust gathered at my core. In all that time continuing tomorrow, I am sorting out the stardust into separate useful solids and liquids. I give most of the vapours to Vulcan and Aeolus and most of the fluids to Poseidon and they all share.
    So far, you have found only enough gold to fill one house and enough diamonds to fill one truck. There is more where that came from. Find where I have hidden it in the mountains and under the waters. It is good for you to quest – good luck.
    Man is late to the life that began in the salty wet clay. You have the salt of Poseidon, the gills of fish, and the brains of monkeys; you have the muscles of babies and the lips of giants. Your eyes magnify everything and what you see scares you. You must place your optical illusions in the perspective of prosperity, health, food, shelter, and clothing. Please listen to your science and not your demagogues . Your footprint is light. How many of you have seen a mine or a well? None! They are rare like diamonds.
    Do what you need to do. Make all your people happy. You have wit enough to do it cleanly. Dig my coal and burn it; make it into plant food again and water. Pump my oil and burn it. There is more where you have not looked. There is much where you have already looked in billion tonne layers of rock in Colorado. It is for man to use and recycle. Do not hesitate to scratch me; I do not bleed; I give.
    I do not want to be alone. Gaia and man belong together, and you do not know why. Much of my surface is empty of man. Perhaps illusions are the answer to the riddle. There is always more room for the children. Oh yes, the sunspots will be back when the lying stops. ”

    • January 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm

      Hi Frann,

      I don’t think I suggested that any part of the eco-sphere was in danger of dying. I was merely commenting on the curiosity most have when things occur outside a normal range of experience and beyond their control. It is normal for us to have that curiosity because evolution has hardwired it into our physiological makeup.

      As for the rest of your…… ummmm…. .commentary…: Well. Good for you? I can’t say that it adds to or detracts from the conversation, and so like many things that neither help nor hurt, I’ll just leave it be.

      Thanks for writing.

  3. Talisker said,

    April 15, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Hi there,

    pretty good story at the first glance, as it reflected my impression of what is going on. Unfortunately your graphs for earthquakes vs. time and volcanic activity vs. time are not supported by usgs data:-( – where did you get those graphs from?
    With respect to the weather/sunspot correlation you may google for “henrik svensmark” – he has a very interesting theory.

    Best Regards

    • April 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm


      I’ll have to go back through the post and find the links for those graphs. When I do I’ll link the graphs to the origin page.

      Thank you for the information on Henrick Svensmark. I will check him out.

      • January 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm


        I’ve changed the charts, but have not replaced them with USGS data. That information has been difficult for me to find. I am not a geologist nor an expert in volcanoes, so I have to rely on people who have seemingly done their homework.

        If someone can provide reasons why these charts are less acceptable or show how the information is flawed, I think we can all take that into account.

  4. December 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    […] my post of 1 year ago, Doom and Gloom: Sunspots, Volcanoes and Earthquakes. Famine, Disease and Pestilence. , I discuss scientific observations of the links between shifts in weather, including rainfall and […]

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