Can solar storms cause tsunamis?

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The sun has a temper and often unleashes it in the form of solar storms, which spew masses of plasma teeming with charged particles that can seriously disrupt satellites, the internet and GPS on Earth.

With all the destruction these fiery tantrums are potentially capable of, could they really trigger a tsunami on Earth?

The short answer is not directly. For a tsunami to be unleashed upon Earththere must be a rumbling earthquake beneath the ocean floor that displaces water and generates a colossal, lightning-fast wave through the entire water column, according to the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (opens in a new tab) (NOAA). Such earthquakes are caused by the same type of tectonic plate movement that makes volcanoes burst and the cities tremble. But as terrifying as it may seem for the Earth to be lashed by plasma winds of a Solar eruption (an intense burst of electromagnetic radiation of the sun) or coronal mass ejection (a giant cloud of electrically charged particles from the sun moving at high speed), these forces cannot directly cause a true tsunami to rise from the ocean floor.

Nevertheless, some researchers claim that solar storms can indirectly lead to tsunamis on Earth.

Related: Could a solar storm one day destroy the Earth?

Scientists agree that solar storms can generate tsunami-like shock waves or “solar tsunamis” that wreak havoc on the Sun rather than the Earth, as NASA reported when the phenomenon was detected by its Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) in 2006. This shock wave, also known as the Moreton wave, was sufficiently powerful to compress and heat hydrogen and other gases in the sun. until the whole star burns brighter. It happened in just a few minutes.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an X2.0 class solar flare erupting from the lower right side of the sun on October 27, 2014. The image shows a mixture of extreme ultraviolet light with d wave of 131 and 171 angstroms. (Image credit: NASA/SDO)

Some solar outbursts are so extreme they can leave their mark on Earth, a team of researchers found in a 2022 study in the journal Nature (opens in a new tab), when they unearthed evidence of fallout from an accident that hit Greenland more than 9,000 years ago. The particles carried by the solar wind were trapped in ice cores which were then examined in the laboratory. This particular major event did not trigger a tsunami, but a 2020 study in Scientific reports (opens in a new tab) describes a possible link between solar storms and massive earthquakes on Earth – and earthquakes are known to cause tsunamis.

“[We found] evidence of a strong correlation between large global earthquakes and the density of protons near the magnetosphere, due to the solar wind,” wrote the researchers, led by Vito Marchitelli, an expert in satellite analysis at the University of Basilicata. in Potenzo, Italy, in the study. This result is extremely important for seismological research and for possible future implications for earthquake prediction.”

Solar storms that affect Earth are the result of solar flares or coronal mass ejections, which typically occur when the sun’s magnetic fields become entangled or broken. Both explode with gargantuan amounts of energy and send intense solar winds into space. When charged particles from the solar winds reach Earth and interact with the ionosphere – the outermost part of our atmosphere on the outskirts of space – they can cause disruptions to satellite and GPS signals, according to Nasa (opens in a new tab). But an interaction with the magnetosphere can do more than that. Earth magnetosphere (opens in a new tab) is further away than the ionosphere. It is the area of ​​space surrounding the planet where the magnetic fields have particularly strong effects, and it is shaped by the solar wind passing through these magnetic fields.

An illustration of the Earth’s magnetic field (Image credit: alxpin via Getty Images)

Marchitelli and his colleagues have proposed that particles from the solar wind hitting the magnetosphere could impact the intensity of earthquakes. The researchers believe these particles are potentially associated with the movement of tectonic plates because their electricity could aggravate an existing disturbance, such as subduction, in which one tectonic plate is pushed under another. They reasoned that the more protons in the solar wind buffeting the magnetosphere, the more likely they were to exacerbate earthquakes, some of which could trigger tsunamis.

However, Marchitelli’s study did not look at the number of tsunamis in periods of strong and weak solar winds, so this idea is still just an idea.

There is more support for this thought. A 2011 study published in the journal Scientific Research (opens in a new tab) observed that earthquakes increase during solar maximum – the period during the sun’s 11-year cycle when it is most active and most likely to release bursts of solar wind that distort the shape of Earth’s magnetic field. This could put additional pressure on the crust by pushing the Earth’s magnetic field against the tectonic plates below, influencing earthquakes causing tsunamis.

For now, these results are still controversial. In a 2012 rebuttal published in Scientific Research (opens in a new tab), geophysicists argued that a relationship between earthquakes and solar storms could not yet be proven.

“The influence of solar activity on earthquakes proves to be an elusive phenomenon,” they wrote in the study.

Thus, solar storms, which are much more terrifying near the sun than on Earth, do not directly cause tsunamis on Earth. Regular tectonic activity continues regardless of solar wind activity. If the particles released by the solar winds can really exert a force on tectonic plateshowever, remains a mystery.

Originally posted on Live Science.


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