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No. 68: Mar-Apr 1990

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Quiet sun: violent earth

When R.B. Stothers, at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, decided to look into the possible correlation of solar activity and terrestrial volcanism, he fully expected to find no connection at all. After all, what force generated by small changes in the sun's output could stir up the earth's magma from a distance of 93 million miles? Stothers was surprised.

"Stothers analyzed two immense catalogs, published in the early 1980s, that list more than 55,000 known eruptions since the year 1500. Concentrating on several hundred of the moderate-to-large eruptions, he found statistically significant patterns in eruption frequency that match the solar cycle. Eruptions seemed most numerous during the weakest portions of the solar cycle."

Further, there was a 97% confidence that the correlation was not a statistical accident.

The only cause-and-effect explanation offered by Stothers was negative and indirect. During periods of abundant sunspots, increased solar emissions jar the earth's atmosphere slightly. Communicated to the crust, these slight taps trigger tiny earthquakes that relieve stresses beneath volcanos, thus delaying their eruptions until solar acitivity dies down. Not especially convincing!

(Anonymous; "Volcanos on Earth May Follow the Sun," Science News, 137:47, 1990.)

Comment. Down the years, many scientists and laymen have tried to correlate sunspots and earthquake frequency. The results have been murky and sometimes contradictory. For more on this subject, see GQS1 in our catalog: Earthquakes, Tides. Details on this volume here.

From Science Frontiers #68, MAR-APR 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987