Previous studies have looked at periods of peak tidal stress, which would be during a new moon. At this point, the Sun and Moon are on the same side of Earth, and their gravitational fields “team up” to pull even more strongly on that hemisphere of the world. This is apparently coincided with the 2011 Tohoku quake, whose accompanying tsunami smothered much of Eastern Japan.
“[Our study] suggests that the probability of a tiny rock failure expanding to a gigantic rupture increases with increasing tidal stress levels,” the authors note in their paper. “We conclude that large earthquakes are more probable during periods of high tidal stress.”
It must be noted that there is no direct evidence linking syzygies of both kinds to the physical rupturing of these major subduction zone faults. The correlation – which isn’t linked to any one particular region of the world – is strong, but this is still circumstantial evidence. It may be a somewhat enchanting argument that suggests that big things have small beginnings, but it's not clear that these earthquakes wouldn't have happened if there wasn't a syzygy taking place.
Although still not finding favour with plenty of geophysicists, there has been an increasing amount of evidence in the last few decades that suggests the gravitational influence of the Moon and Sun could be conspiring to pull apart structurally weak faults that were due to release some stress. The San Andreas Fault, for example, has reportedly experienced more than 80,000 small tremors related to the lunar cycle.
If it’s triggering these quakes, then should we, if we're feeling particularly megalomaniacal, attempt to destroy the Moon? Best not – the Moon may also be stirring tides deep within Earth’s liquid core. Without these tides, we may not have a protective magnetic field shielding us from harmful radiation.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Iwate prefecture damage in Japan as a result of the 2011 quake and tsunami. yankane/Shutterstock