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Climate Change Can Amplify Earthquake and Volcano Impacts

I am thrilled to share that GHI is spearheading a multi-year initiative to better understand, mitigate, and adapt to geohazard risks exacerbated by climate change. This is particularly important in the places where we work, as they are facing the brunt of climate impacts. This work also fills a major gap—most of the research and work related to the intersection of climate change and geohazards are focused on issues in high-income countries. 


Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, this program aims to proactively support communities most at-risk from climate change. Heidi Stenner, who is leading this Program, provides more information in her note below.


Veronica Cedillos, GHI President & CEO

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Climate change is impacting people in many ways—longer, hotter heat waves; more intense tropical cyclones; increased flooding from extreme rainfall. But what about major hazards that strike less frequently? Impacts from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions may worsen from climate change, but exactly how is still being explored. Making matters worse, many low-resource countries have disproportionately high risk, yet there is considerably less research and targeted resilience investment in these areas.


GHI is doing important work to close the gap. Our USAID-funded Amplified Risk Program is exploring exactly how climate change can worsen impacts from geologic hazards.


People stand amid collapsed buildings after the 2021 earthquake in southern Haiti. Two days after the earthquake, Tropical Depression Grace brought heavy rain, which slowed rescue and relief, and made life more difficult for those forced to live under tarps. Such “compound events” may become worse as hurricanes are more intense due to climate change. Photo by Voice of America.


We know that earthquakes can trigger landslides, liquefaction, and tsunamis. As our climate shifts, some locations will experience more extreme rains, which can make slopes more prone to landsliding and wide river valleys more prone to liquefaction during an earthquake. Low-lying coastal areas experiencing sea level rise may see increased inundation during an earthquake-triggered tsunami.


Landslides were a major problem in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria in 2017. Climate change is causing such storms to increase in intensity; extreme precipitation is also increasing. As landslides are triggered by future earthquakes, they may be more extensive due to more moisture in slopes. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey.


Not every volcanic eruption will be more damaging due to climate change, but as warming temperatures become our new normal, increasingly extreme rains and melting snow and ice mean more surface and ground water on volcanoes. Eruptions may be more explosive, and additional water on the slopes of volcanoes can generate more devastating and far-reaching volcanic mudflows (lahars)


Climate change is making typhoons, heat waves, droughts and wildfires more intense. The frequency of some of these disasters are increasing, too. With increased frequency, the chance of these disasters overlapping with an eruption or earthquake is also increasing. When disasters overlap, the resulting compound disaster can be catastrophic. Just ask people in the Philippines. 


A triple-threat example from the Philippines


In July 1990, a large M7.7 earthquake caused major damage to the island of Luzon, centered about 80-100 km from the Mount Pinatubo volcano. Nine months later, the volcano became active, and then on June 15, 1991 it produced a massive eruption. That same day, Typhoon Yunya crossed Luzon with winds up to 195 km/hr, centered 75 km north of the volcano. Very heavy rainfall triggered lahars that buried or destroyed homes and businesses, and damaged lifelines. The intense rain also saturated the thick ashfall, causing infrastructure to buckle under its weight.


Children take refuge on their school’s rooftop after a slurry of mud and debris (lahar) buries their community due to heavy typhoon rain following Mount Pinatubo’s volcanic eruption. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey.


GHI is doing important work to close the gap. Our USAID-funded Amplified Risk Program is exploring exactly how climate change can worsen impacts from geologic hazards.We know that earthquakes can trigger landslides, liquefaction, and tsunamis. As our climate shifts, some locations will experience more extreme rains, which can make slopes more prone to landsliding and wide river valleys more prone to liquefaction during an earthquake. Low-lying coastal areas experiencing sea level rise may see increased inundation during an earthquake-triggered tsunami.GHI is doing important work to close the gap. Our USAID-funded Amplified Risk Program is exploring exactly how climate change can worsen impacts from geologic hazards.GHI is doing important work to close the gap. Our USAID-funded Amplified Risk Program is exploring exactly how climate change can worsen impacts from geologic hazards.


From science to community action


GHI’s Amplified Risk Program wants to spur conversations about planning ahead for what is coming, given our changing climate. For disaster managers and local officials, we will draw attention to the amplified hazards and offer ways to reduce or mitigate the impacts. By bringing together dozens of experts from many disciplines and countries, we are ensuring that the program’s findings have a holistic viewpoint.


This program is not only at the forefront of scientific thinking, but also aims to apply that knowledge to help communities that are most impacted and under-resourced. We plan to collaborate with officials and community leaders in three low-resource locations to address local amplified risks. The first location selected is a community in the Philippines, as the country is at great risk from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and climate change impacts. We are just beginning coordination with local officials.



Our core team is deeply grateful for the committed participation of dozens of experts from many countries and disciplines. They are adding technical insights to the program through workshops and working groups. The contributing scientists below are hazard experts in topics such as global climate, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Later in the project we will also bring in experts on the effects of these hazards on people and infrastructure as well as engineers and planners who will look at potential solutions.



Keep following GHI for more about the Amplified Risk Program as we progress into exploring the impacts from amplified hazards and the solutions!




Heidi Stenner, P.G.

Project Manager, Amplified Risk Program


GeoHazards International 

Bhutan · Dominican Republic · Haiti · India · Nepal · U.S.A.





This newsletter is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of GeoHazards International and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government, and are based upon work supported by USAID under cooperative agreement # 720BHA22CA00035.

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