To most of us — deniers and delayers excepted — it’s not news anymore that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are causing the global climate to warm and the oceans to acidify. But geologists meeting in London this week warn that a hotter planet could mean more earthquakes, avalanches, volcanic eruptions and possibly even tsunamis on British shores.
“Climate Forcing of Geological and Geomorphological Hazards,” a colloquium taking place through Thursday at University College London, features a host of scientists from around the globe who will discuss the various possible geological dangers we could face as the climate warms.
There’s ample evidence from the past suggesting that periods with hotter climates also see more geological action. At the end of the last Ice Age some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, for example, areas such as offshore Norway experienced giant underwater landslides that triggered tsunamis. In the region that’s now western Germany,a massive volcanic eruption created a crater that today is the Laacher See.
Such activity was triggered as retreating glaciers, ice melt and rising oceans altered stresses on the Earth’s crust.
Other potential hazards up for discussion at this week’s gathering include the possible large-scale release of frozen methane — hydrates — a powerful greenhouse gas that’s buried in large quantities below the oceans’ floors, and the increased likelihood of avalanches in the Alps as glaciers retreat and meltwater runoff increases.