Earthquakes and tsunamis just the tip of the iceberg, say experts

CLIMATE change could spark more "hazardous" geological events such as volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides.

In papers published by the Royal Society, researchers warned that melting ice, sea level rises and even increasingly heavy storms and rainfall – predicted consequences of rising temperatures – could affect the Earth's crust.

Even small changes in the environment could trigger activity such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

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Bill McGuire, of the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre at University College London, and the author of a review in the journal of research in the area, said warming temperatures melted ice from ice sheets and glaciers and increased the amount of water in the oceans.

As the land "rebounds" once the weight of the ice has been removed – which could be by as much as a kilometre in places such as Greenland and Antarctica – then if, in the worst case scenario, all the ice were to melt, it could trigger earthquakes.

Prof McGuire said that in Taiwan the lower air pressure generated by typhoons was enough to "unload" the crust by a small amount and trigger earthquakes.

Other impacts of rising temperatures include glacial lakes bursting out through rock dams and causing flash flooding in mountain regions such as the Himalayas, as well as rock, ice and landslides as permafrost melts.

Prof McGuire called for a programme of research focusing on the potential geological hazards that global warming could bring, with the lead body on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, addressing the issue directly in its future assessments.