Climate change is linked to tectonic plate movement

Summary:Scientists always thought tectonic movements affect climate because it creates new mountains and trenches in the sea. The opposite is is also true.

Climate causes the earth to move. An international team of researchers discovered that more rainfall in India made the Indian tectonic plate speed up by factor of 20 percent.

“The significance of this finding lies in recognizing for the first time that long-term climate changes have the potential to act as a force and influence the motion of tectonic plates," Giampiero Iaffaldano, researcher at Australian National University, told Cosmos.

The scientists studied monsoon records in India for the past 10 million years and linked it to the motion of the tectonic plates, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Of course, the seismic shifts didn't happen overnight, it took millions of years to change the direction of plates. Still, tectonic plates move very slowly...about the speed at which your fingernails grow, explained Iaffaldano.

The study was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

All this study showed was that plate movement occurs on a feedback mechanism: It's not all one-sided after all. In India, more rain made the plates move faster. But remember, the change happened slowly - at about one centimeter per year.

You might be thinking you already knew this, but this finding is counter-intuitive. First of all, we knew that plate movement can create new mountains and affect ocean basins. But now, researchers are finding out that it can work the other way too. Climate change can cause seismic shifts - and possibly make some regions more likely to have large earthquakes than others.

Long-term climate change could explain huge seismic events such as the earthquake that struck Japan. However, Iaffaldano doesn't want us to jump to any conclusions: This finding doesn't mean more earthquakes are more likely to occur.

The point? This is the first time climate change has been linked to the movement of tectonic plates. Ultimately, knowing about the feedback loop might help scientists understand which areas of the world are more likely to have an earthquake.

Monsoons are spinning the Earth's plates [Cosmos] via Agence France-Press

Photo: USGS

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech,, and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado... Full Bio

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