In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at earthquakes, and answer a question we see many of our readers asking: Can earthquakes be man-made?
In short, yes they can. Man-made earthquakes can be caused by a number of reasons, such as construction, research experiments, nuclear explosions, and more.
Earthquakes are some of the scariest, most destructive natural phenomena on the planet. It’s quite a scary thought that we humans can create these intentionally.
Let’s take a closer look…
What Is A Man-Made Earthquake?
Also known as induced seismicity, a man-made earthquake refers to typically minor earthquakes or tremors that are caused by human activity that alters the stressors and strains on the earth’s crust.
These are earthquakes that are made by man, often small, and caused due to a variety of factors.
Thankfully, most induced seismicity is of low magnitude, and can often be referred to as microearthquakes.
These small earthquakes are often not even felt by humans, but are still recorded on seismographs and kept a log of.
The Human-Induced Earthquake Database documents all reported cases of man-made earthquakes and is the most complete compilation of its kind.
Can Earthquakes Be Created?
Yes, earthquakes can absolutely be created and often are.
Historically the Central United States has been relatively quiet with regard to earthquake activity, with an average of 25 earthquakes with a magnitude below 3 between 1973 and 2008.
However, since 2009, this rate has rapidly increased, exceeding 600 events per year between 2014 and 2016, with a peak of 1010 events in 2015.
As you can see the increase here is drastic, but why?
In 2016, the Pawnee earthquake in Oklahoma was the largest and released an energy corresponding with a magnitude 5.8 earthquake.
Earthquakes are mostly generated by the rupture of rocks along tectonic plate boundaries, where plate movement causes stress accumulation.
But the central USA is not located near a tectonic plate boundary, so how come the number of earthquakes has increased so much?
What Are The Man Made Causes Of Earthquakes?
The main reason why the number of earthquakes has significantly increased over the years in the central USA is because of wastewater injection.
This is generated and produced in the process of oil and gas extraction in the region.
The disposed of fluids may impact the pressure in-depth and modify the effective stress along faults, resulting in induced seismicity or man-made earthquakes.
Wastewater injection is when a fluid is injected under pressure into the ground, where the naturally high temperature of the earth’s crust heats up the fluid.
We humans can be quite destructive at times on this planet, especially when taking on large construction projects.
Many engineers and scientists feel concerned about the impact of skyscrapers and other projects as the scale of some projects can cause man-made earthquakes.
Mining, building reservoirs, and extracting oil and gas are all known to cause induced seismicity, so it’s important for this to be taken into account before the build starts.
Nuclear explosions can also cause man-made earthquakes, however, they are much smaller than the explosion itself and not all explosions cause these earthquakes.
The range of a possible earthquake triggered by a nuclear explosion is limited to a few tens of kilometers from the point of the explosion.
The impact of a nuclear explosion can cause a lot of damage to the earth, so it’s no surprise that earthquakes, tsunamis, and more can occur after them.
Geothermal drilling is the activity of creating boreholes in the earth to extract the earth’s heat.
Harvesting geothermal energy involves accessing high-pressure fluids and gases from reservoirs deep underground.
After being extracted to the surface, they are used to power turbines that create electricity, before being injected back into the earth’s crust.
The depth of the drilling is usually around 3000m, with many concerned about the drilling’s ability to cause seismic events.
Man-Made Earthquake Examples
In China in 2008, the Wenchuan earthquake was rated as a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale.
This earthquake was likely caused by the construction and filling of a nearby dam. The aftermath of this earthquake was devastating, with around 70,000 deaths and 374,000 injured.
Buildings collapsed, and homes were destroyed, leaving 5,000,000 people homeless.
Nepal 2015 Earthquake
An earthquake in Nepal in 2015 measured a whopping 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale.
This earthquake was likely caused by groundwater extraction, it was so strong that it triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest which killed 20 people.
Another avalanche was triggered in the Langtang Valley where 250 people were killed.
Aside from the avalanches, the earthquake killed almost 9000 people and left another 22,000 injured.
Oklahoma 2016 Earthquake
The earthquake in Oklahoma in 2016 measured 5.8 on the Richter scale and was likely caused by fracking wastewater injection.
This was the largest ever earthquake recorded in the state, with aftershocks felt as far as San Antonio Texas, and as far north as Dakota.
Damage from the earthquake was recorded as far as 300 miles away, with lots of homes, buildings, and other properties being damaged.
As you can see, there are plenty of examples of man-made earthquakes that have caused destruction all around the world.
Some of these earthquakes have killed thousands, with many measuring highs on the Richter scale.
So, can earthquakes be man-made? Absolutely.
We, humans, are incredibly powerful on earth, but we’re also destructive in our activities.
Mining, construction, and wastewater injection all have a serious impact on the earth and are often the cause of man-made earthquakes.
Thankfully, most man-made earthquakes are small, and usually not felt but us. But that doesn’t mean they don’t cause damage and destruction.
However, not all man-made earthquakes are small, with the examples we’ve outlined in this post being incredibly powerful, so much so that they have cost lives.
Hopefully, this post has been insightful into man-made earthquakes and you’ve learned a thing or two about how they are caused and the damage they can do.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, if you have enjoyed it, feel free to stick around and learn more about natural phenomena and extreme weather.
Hey, I’m Sam – the founder of GustyPlanet. I’ve had a fascination with all things weather for as long as I can remember. I witnessed my first tornado at the age of 6, and since then became an avid storm chaser that is hooked on learning as much as I can about extreme weather. This blog was created to share my knowledge and to expand and delve deeper into the wonderful world of weather phenomena. I hope you enjoy your stay here and thanks for visiting.