USGS scientists say despite the belief, a rise in solar activity like sunspots, solar wind speed, or magnetic storms does not trigger more, or larger, earthquakes.
"Recently there's been a lot of interest in this subject from the popular press, probably because of a couple of larger and very devastating earthquakes," Jeffrey Love of the USGS, lead author of the study, told Planet Earth Online. "This motivated us to investigate for ourselves whether or not it was true."
Love and colleague Jeremy Thomas of Northwest Research Associates used data from the British Geological Survey, USGS, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to count the number of earthquakes per day, month and year.
When they examined the relationship between peaks in solar activity and large earthquakes, they said, they found no correlation.
"There have been some earthquakes like the 9.5 magnitude Chile quake in 1960 where, sure enough, there were more sunspots and more geomagnetic activity than on average," Love said. "But then for the Alaska earthquake in 1964 everything was lower than normal.
"There's no obvious pattern between solar activity and seismicity, so our results were inconclusive," he said.
"It's natural for scientists to want to see relationships between things. Of course, that doesn't mean that a relationship actually exists!"