EARTH Magazine: How earthquakes affect the upper atmosphere

The June 2014 issue of EARTH

The June 2014 issue of EARTH

As many of you know, I don’t just write for fun. This is also how I make my living! If you’re curious about my science writing, my latest story for EARTH magazine, on how earthquakes affect the upper atmosphere, just went live. This is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written for EARTH lately, where I usually cover the geophysics beat – think earthquakes, plate tectonics and volcanoes.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude-7 earthquake rocked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, destroying much of the city and killing more than 200,000 people. Satellite records of atmospheric electron activity high above the island reveal an unusual pattern of behavior in the ionosphere in the months leading up to the quake — information that could be used in the future to forewarn of major earthquakes.

Scientists have long known that some minerals — quartz, for example — can produce electricity when deformed under pressure, an effect called piezoelectricity. This phenomenon has been replicated in the lab by applying stress to a slab of granite and measuring the ensuing electrical current.

“At a certain amount of stress, you start seeing a flow of electrons,” says Pierre-Richard Cornely, an electrical engineer at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass., who presented new research on the phenomenon last December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Calif. “In theory, this amount of stress can be likened to the stress inflicted on rocks leading up to an earthquake.”

Everything really is connected! To read the rest, click over to EARTH’s website.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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2 Responses to EARTH Magazine: How earthquakes affect the upper atmosphere

  1. Linda P. says:

    Great article!

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