THROUGHOUT history, people have suspected the moon of messing around with life on Earth’s surface. From inducing madness to affecting the growth of plants, most of these connections are as tenacious as they are ill-substantiated. But one area where the moon’s influence cannot be disputed is on the seashore. Long before Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity provided a physical explanation, the link between the tides and the phases of the moon was obvious to anyone with an eye for patterns.
And if the moon has such a strong effect on liquid water, well then, why shouldn’t the ground be equally affected? Philosophers as far back as Pliny the Elder have speculated that the moon’s movements across the sky might also be responsible for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Statisticians fought over the significance of the connection in the 19th century, and geophysicists of the 1970s and 80s kept the claim alive until lack of evidence finally pushed it out of the mainstream.
“Gas eruptions have proven difficult to predict and can be deadly”
The current state of the field can best be summed up by an eye-catching paper published in January by Susan Hough. A seismologist with the United States Geological Survey, she had set out to answer an age-old question: does the timing of powerful earthquakes coincide with the phases of the moon? The abstract ran to one word: No.
Most experts would agree that the blame for natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic blasts lies elsewhere. But even if tidal forces don’t have the necessary power to cause eruptions, that doesn’t mean their …