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Earthquakes Could Double in 2018 Because of a Weird Planetary Event

A millisecond lost, a millisecond gained — such small slices of time don’t mean much to people going about their lives.

But for seismologists studying the Earth’s tectonic plates, the daily sum of milliseconds can be a useful way to predict earthquakes. And by that measure, 2018 is shaping up to be a year of extraordinary earthquake activity, according to Quartz.  

At least that’s the theory argued by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana, who presented their views at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in early November, according to The Guardian.  

Take Action: Call on World Leaders to Help Millions of People Affected by Extreme Weather

The pair of seismologists wanted to get a better understanding of what drives earthquakes so they looked at all recorded seismic activity since 1900.

They identified a surge in major earthquakes every 32 years and found that this spike had been preceded by a four-year slowing down of the Earth’s rotation, according to Quartz. The past four years have undergone a gradual deceleration, according to the scientists, and next year will be the fifth in the cycle.

“The inference is clear,” Bilham told the Guardian. “Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes. Instead of an average of about 15-20 large earthquakes, we might see 25 or 30 in 2018.”

Some of these massive earthquakes will be far from where people live, while some may strike densely populated cities.

It’s not that the change in time is, by itself, triggering Earthquakes — it’s just a symptom of the root cause, according to the researchers.

Read More: Photos of the Aftermath of the Earthquake in Nepal

From its mantle to its core, the Earth is mostly comprised of metal. Slight changes to this composition can influence the planet’s magnetic field, according to Quartz. Every so often, the outer section of the mantle — a molten river of liquid — is believed to stick to the Earth’s crust, altering both the overall flow and the magnetic field. This then leads the Earth’s rotation to slow and induces more earthquakes.

This is all a working theory at the moment, and the pair of scientists are waiting to see if 2018 bears out their hypothesis.

If it does, then the year ahead could see catastrophic damage throughout the world.

In 2017, powerful earthquakes in Iran and Mexico killed more than a 1,000 people and devastated cities. Ecuador, Italy, Taiwan, and Indonesia suffered the most earthquake casualties in 2016. Nepal suffered an enormous earthquake in 2015 that left nearly 9,000 people dead. China, meanwhile, faced the deadliest earthquake in 2014.

Earthquakes are hard to predict. It’s not like 2018 will suddenly unleash all the pent-up pressure from the slow-moving parade of the Earth’s tectonic plates, but if this novel approach for predicting earthquake activity proves accurate, then it could help governments better protect citizens.

As climate change makes other natural disasters — hurricanes, droughts, floods, extreme heat — more common around the world, leaders everywhere are prioritizing sustainability.  

Read More: 11 Photos From the Massive Earthquake in Mexico That Left At Least 61 Dead and 200 Injured

The only way to prepare for earthquakes, meanwhile, is to create more resilient infrastructure — building foundations that can ride out tremors rather than rupture from them, and energy systems that can withstand pressure. Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for sustainable infrastructure. You can take action on this issue here.

If 2018 turns out to be as riddled with tremors as predicted, then the next time the Earth’s rotation slows down, efforts to make sure buildings don’t fall down will no doubt speed up.