The “SuperMoon” and the Japan earthquake

On March 19, the moon’s orbit will make its closest approach to Earth in 18 years while at the same time be in full phase. Such a coincidence has been named a “SuperMoon” by astrologer Richard Nolle. As entertainingly chronicled by John Metcalfe over at TBD, Nolle predicts all kinds of weather and natural hazard mayhem, including strong earthquakes, around the time of the Supermoon.

So the questions that emerge are: 1) Is there any legitimate science linking the Supermoon and extreme natural hazards? and, 2) Did the upcoming Supermoon play a role in this morning’s horrific earthquake in Japan, the fifth most powerful on record?

AccuWeather’s Astronomy blogger Mark Paquette, in a post on March 1, stopped short of rejecting the idea Supermoons and natural hazards are linked, writing:

There were SuperMoons in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005. These years had their share of extreme weather and other natural events. Is the Super Moon and these natural occurences a coincidence? Some would say yes; some would say no. I’m not here to pick sides and say I’m a believer or non-believer in subjects like this...

He noted that one of his readers pointed out that the last extreme supermoon occurred on January 10, 2005, right around the time of the 9.0 Indonesia earthquake.

Metcalfe’s TBD piece documents all sorts of coinciding extreme weather events that have occurred around past Supermoons.

Hurricane Katrina made land on the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, which was 10 days after the SuperMoon for that month. The 1938 New England hurricane happened on Sept. 21, three weeks after a SuperMoon. Australia’s Hunter River experienced mass flooding and property destruction in February 1955, two whole months before and after bookending SuperMoons.

Surely appreciating that correlation does not equal causation and the pitfalls of developing theories on anecdotal evidence, Metcalfe then mocks the notion of making too much of these coincidences, sarcastically commenting: “I could just pick harmless events that happened around SuperMoons and use them to formulate a theory stating that nobody should ever pay astrologers for readings again.”

He also cites a news article from Australia on the impending “Moonageddon” which quotes astronomist Pete Wheeler as follows:

“There will be no earthquakes or volcanoes,” Mr Wheeler told news.com.au, “unless they are to happen anyway”.

“(The Earth will experience) just a lower than usual low tide and a higher than usual high tide around the time of the event, but nothing to get excited about.”

For the record, I’ve never encountered any legitimate science that shows any credible causal link between moon proximity and phase and meteorological or geological events.

Nevertheless, here we are just eight days away from the SuperMoon witnessing one of the worst natural calamity’s in decades.

AccuWeather’s Paquette, whereas he was agnostic in his March 1 blog, writes today “I am starting to believe!”

“I believe that the Earth may have already felt some of the supermoon’s effects. It could be a huge coincidence that this earthquake was not influenced by the supermoon. But in my totally unscientific opinion, having no hard evidence to back it up, it doesn’t seem like just coincidence to me.”

But the Bad Astronomy blog, which aims to debunk scientific misconceptions, completely rejects any link between the SuperMoon and the Japan quake. Author Phil Plait, an astronomer, states emphatically:

I do hope I can help mitigate the panic and worry that can happen due to people blaming this earthquake on the so-called “supermoon” -- a date when the Moon is especially close to the Earth at the same time it’s full. So let me be extremely clear:

Despite what a lot of people are saying, there is no way this earthquake was caused by the Moon.

The idea of the Moon affecting us on Earth isn’t total nonsense, but it cannot be behind this earthquake, and almost certainly won’t have any actual, measurable affect on us on March 19, when the full Moon is at its closest.

The post then walks through very well laid out scientific arguments for why the Supermoon and the Japan earthquake are not related. It also explains why the Supermoon is highly unlikely to cause extreme weather, stating: “[Weather] is caused by an incredibly complex interaction between the Earth’s rotation, the heat input from the Sun, the way the oceans and seas absorb and radiate heat, and a million other factors. If the Moon contributes in any way, it is very, very small compared to these other massive factors.”

I found the piece extremely convincing and highly recommend reading it. Suffice to say, I’m not on the SuperMoon causing natural chaos bandwagon.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.

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