Earthquake prediction?

While there tends to be some kind of prior warning that a large-scale volcanic eruption is on the cards, earthquakes are a lot more difficult to pin down, so I was interested to read this news item in the Asahi Newspaper (Saturday 28th May 2011), which suggests that prediction – of major earthquakes, at least – is now a possibility.

I assume this story has been reproduced in English language news sources, but anyway, I thought it would be an interesting one to translate – any scientific inaccuracies are entirely my responsibility:

Electrons increased 40 minutes before earthquake

Forty minutes before the magnitude 9 Great East Japan Earthquake, levels of electrons in the ionosphere about three hundred kilometres above the Tohoku region of Japan showed an abnormal increase. The data was ascertained by Hokkaido University Professor Kohsuké Heki using signals from GPS equipment, and presented at a conference of the Japan Earth Satellite Association on 27th May. The same phenomenon has been observed at other large earthquakes, and has given rise to the valuable possibility of predicting earthquakes.

GPS satellite signals are influenced by electrons in the ionosphere – the larger the number of electrons, the greater the influence – and Professor Heki has checked National Geographic Society members’ GPS records from around the time of the earthquake.

As a result of this research, Heki has found that before the 11th March earthquake, electrons in the atmosphere began to increase by as much as ten per cent, at a distance of between three and four hundred kilometres from the epicentre. As soon as the earthquake began, electron levels returned to normal, although the exact mechanism of the increase is not yet clear.

It has been confirmed that just before the Chile earthquake of 2010 (magnitude 8.8), the Sumatra earthquake of 2004 (magnitude 9.1) and the Hokkaido Eastern Sea earthquake of 1994 (magnitude 8.2), increased levels of electrons were also observed in GPS records. The bigger the earthquake, the greater the breadth of the increase, although increases have not been seen for earthquakes of a magnitude below 8.

‘We hope to be able to predict earthquakes of magnitude 9 and above,’ said Professor Heki. ‘and because GPS records can be analysed using simple software, anyone can view the data.’ It is expected to be confirmed during the coming year whether or not such increases occur on occasions other than when there is an earthquake.








0 thoughts on “Earthquake prediction?”

  1. This is good news, albeit weird news. I sometimes wonder why more of the scientific community isn’t dedicated to finding the answers to things like this, rather than dripping marmite into cats’ eyes.

  2. I think there are quite a few boffins out there trying to find a way of predicting earthquakes, but it’s basically just too random. Another factoid I found out while reading the papers recently (or possibly the BBC website) is that there is apparently a rogue 25km thick chunk of continental plate right beneath Tokyo that could end up causing all kinds of trouble – or not, as the case may be.

  3. There are actually large groups of scientists, as Muzuhashi rightyl suspects, that look into earth quake prediction, and there is also the scientific infrastructure to support this, i.e. large computing grids that provide the processing power for what is not an easy task. Indirectly, I work with some of them, and also with people who look into things such as flood predictions. That seems to be easier, relatively speaking.

  4. If your computing pals happen to find out when and where the next big one is going to hit, be sure to let me know!

  5. I would, but we usually communicate via quarterly reports, so when I read the “achievements” sections it could just read: “Last month we predicted…” At least you would then know that they were right when you start rebuilding the house…

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