Often after devastating earthquakes, conspiracy theories emerge claiming that the disaster was allegedly caused by artificial means. For example, after the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria in 2023, several conspiracy theories arose that it was a “US punitive operation” against Turkiye. For example, TikTok users saw a connection between the February 6 earthquake and the arrival of a US destroyer “with mega warheads” at the Turkish port of Golcuk on February 3. Allegedly, it was on board this ship that there was a seismic weapon - a HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program) installation. However, many scientists called this theory untenable. Scientists do not know the mechanisms by which AM radio waves can cause an earthquake. David Malaspina, a research scientist at the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, said such radio waves penetrate less than 1 cm into the ground, but earthquakes occur much deeper. For example, in Turkiye the earthquake occurred at a depth of approximately 10 km. In addition, it is impossible to launch waves over a certain distance and hit certain populated areas with acceptable accuracy, said Toshi Nishimura, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University.

Faktyoxla Lab. based on open sources checked whether there are currently weapons capable of causing earthquakes.

Let's start with the fact that discussions of weapons that are supposedly capable of causing earthquakes in a certain place at a certain time can be found in various media, on forums and social networks.

Some natural phenomena that affect industry, the economy and the population of certain countries often give rise to talk about the artificial nature of the disaster. Mentions of tectonic weapons often come up - some hypothetical method that can artificially cause earthquakes in a certain location. The term “tectonic weapon” was coined in 1992 by Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexei Nikolaev. Nikolaev defined tectonic weapons as “the use of accumulated tectonic energy from the bowels of the earth to provoke a destructive earthquake.” Some human actions can indeed influence seismic activity and provoke earthquakes: mainly nuclear tests, mining and filling large reservoirs.

Nuclear explosions can cause small earthquakes and even a series of aftershocks (repeated seismic tremors of lower intensity), but this happens extremely rarely. Earthquakes from explosions are usually much weaker than the explosion itself, and the radius of seismic waves does not exceed several tens of kilometers. The energy released in a nuclear explosion typically ranges from 2 to 250 kilotons. For comparison, the power of a medium-sized natural earthquake of magnitude 6.5 in Afghanistan in 1998 was 2,000 kilotons.

To artificially cause seismic tremors of such power, a bomb of several tens of thousands of kilotons would be required. By the way, explosions of bombs of this size have happened in history, but they did not lead to destructive earthquakes. For example, the explosion of the largest thermonuclear bomb in history, the 58,000 kiloton Tsar Bomba, reportedly did not lead to significant earthquakes in the region. The largest underground thermonuclear tests conducted by the US in the Aleutian Islands in 1971 didn’t cause earthquakes, either. This is despite that the Aleutian Islands are a seismically active zone, and the explosion of a 5,000-kiloton bomb released an amount of energy equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 6.9. Thus, using nuclear explosions as a tectonic weapon is pointless, if only because of the low probability of achieving the desired result.

Another type of human activity that can cause earthquakes is fracking. The process involves drilling wells into shale formations and injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to break up the rock and release the oil. In some regions, such formation destruction can trigger earthquakes due to rock displacement. The vast majority of fracking operations do not cause rock movement.

Most man-made earthquakes associated with oil and gas production are not caused by fracking itself, but by wastewater disposal. In nature, oil is mixed with large volumes of water, which after extraction must be filtered and disposed of. This wastewater is pumped back into the ground into reservoirs at great depths, which press on existing faults in the rocks and cause earthquakes. The strongest documented earthquake caused by this method occurred in Oklahoma in 2016 (magnitude 5.8). Yet only a small percentage of wastewater reservoirs cause seismic activity - these are typically very large reservoirs located in close proximity to rock faults.

There are also cases where the filling of large surface reservoirs led to increased seismicity in the surrounding area. But it is obvious that such methods cannot be used to provoke earthquakes in “enemy” territory, since seismic activity increases relatively close to wells or reservoirs, and even then, not always.

Attempts to create tectonic weapons were made by several countries in the 20th century. A joint project between the US and New Zealand militaries, called Seal, was aimed at creating a tsunami by placing multiple explosive charges on the ocean floor. Tests have shown that a chain of bombs weighing a total of 2 million kg, placed at a distance of approximately 8 km from the coast, can create a destructive wave. But this method of using tsunamis to destroy enemy cities was found to be relatively ineffective: most of the wave energy was dissipated, breaking on the continental shelf, never reaching the shore. Despite the failure of the project, in 1999 experts noted that the creation of such a weapon was theoretically possible, but further research has not been carried out since then.

In the USSR, there were also two programs - “Vulcan” and “Mercury-18”, which studied “remote influence on the source of an earthquake using weak seismic fields and the transfer of explosion energy.” Within these programs, a number of successful experiments were carried out, but after the collapse of the USSR, the programs ceased to exist. Roger Clark, a geophysics teacher at the University of Leeds, noted that the creation of such mechanisms is theoretically possible, but given past experience, it is extremely unlikely.

Thus, some human actions, such as nuclear testing or deep disposal of wastewater, can indeed influence seismic activity and cause “artificial” earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 5–6. However, such earthquakes occur in close proximity to a landfill, well or reservoir. It is impossible to organize such activities on foreign territory, especially without being noticed by the enemy. And combined with the fact that such earthquakes are still unlikely and unpredictable, it is not yet possible to use them as a weapon.