Possible earthquake early warning signal discovered

From the AGU: An atmospheric precursor to the recent Japan megaquake

Most scientists believe that earthquakes are inherently unpredictable, and reports of various kinds of earthquake precursor signals have been difficult to verify. However, in a new study, Heki reports a possible ionospheric precursor to the devastating 11 March 2011 magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake in Japan. Analyzing data from the Japanese GPS network, he detects an increase in the total electron content (TEC) in the ionosphere above the focal region of the earthquake beginning about 40 minutes before the quake.

The TEC enhancement reached about 8 percent above the background electron content. The increase in TEC was greatest above the earthquake epicenter and diminished with distance from the epicenter. The researcher also analyzes GPS records from previous earthquakes and finds that similar ionospheric anomalies occurred before the 2010 magnitude 8.8 Chile earthquake, possibly the 2004 Sumatra magnitude 9.2 earthquake, and possibly the 1994 magnitude 8.3 Hokkaido earthquake, but TEC enhancements were not seen before smaller earthquakes.

http://www.agu.org/journals/gl/gl1117/2011GL047908/2011gl047908-op04-tn-350x.jpg

Figure 4 Total Electron Current (TEC) with time of earthquake events

Although previous studies have shown that earthquakes could trigger atmospheric waves that travel upward and disturb the ionosphere, it is unclear how an ionospheric disturbance could occur before an earthquake begins. In addition, the ionosphere is highly variable, and solar storms can trigger large TEC changes, so nonearthquake causes of any TEC enhancement need to be ruled out. The researcher states that, unlike previously suggested earthquake precursors, the TEC enhancement before the Tohoku quake had obvious spatial and temporal correlation between the quake and precursor signal as well as clear magnitude dependence. Further research is needed to verify that TEC enhancements can indeed be a precursor to large earthquakes.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2011GL047908, 2011 http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL047908

Title: Ionospheric electron enhancement preceding the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake

Key Points

  • Positive TEC anomaly appears before M9 class events
  • The anomaly occurs above the epicenter and lasts ~1 hour
  • M9 class earthquakes can be predicted

Kosuke Heki

Department of Natural History Sciences, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan

Abstract

The 2011 March 11 Tohoku-Oki earthquake (Mw9.0) caused vast damages to the country. Large events beneath dense observation networks could bring breakthroughs to seismology and geodynamics, and here I report one such finding. The Japanese dense network of Global Positioning System (GPS) detected clear precursory positive anomaly of ionospheric total electron content (TEC) around the focal region. It started ∼40 minutes before the earthquake and reached nearly ten percent of the background TEC. It lasted until atmospheric waves arrived at the ionosphere. Similar preseismic TEC anomalies, with amplitudes dependent on magnitudes, were seen in the 2010 Chile earthquake (Mw8.8), and possibly in the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman (Mw9.2) and the 1994 Hokkaido-Toho-Oki (Mw8.3) earthquakes, but not in smaller earthquakes.

Advertisements

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Kev-in-Uk

This is quite interesting – and I will have to read it properly tomorrow. Initially, my thoughts are that stress induction (by tectonic movements) into the crust may create some electro/magneto type interference and this is somehow transmitted to the ionosphere……so ‘detection’ of induced stresses may indeed be possible?? Going off on a limb – I am thinking in terms of the piezoelectric effect???

kim

The sky is falling.
=========

kramer

A related article:
Atmosphere Above Japan Heated Rapidly Before M9 Earthquake
http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26773/

Mike Bromley the Canucklehead

Not very useful if a big sunspot like last week’s is galumphing across the solar disc. At first I was steeling myself for some connection to the C-word, I admit, but it never came. I’d not jump to the third conclusion that M9’s can be predicted.

I can’t see an obvious connection but maybe that why many animals get figity/nervious just before an earthquake ???

kim

What is it about the arrival of atmospheric waves which destroys the effect?
===========

etudiant

Wonderful news, if correct.
It is not clear from the charts that a positive anomaly is easily identified, except ex post.
Moreover, the text suggests that TEC is a very variable parameter, so that the process of monitoring what the level should be to find anomalies will be laborious at best. We might wind up with an earthquake alarm that predicts 1001 of the next 1 magnitude 8+ earthquakes, at great expense.
Is that progress?

Dr Mo

I’m surprised that the article did not mention the fact that all the earthquakes mentioned in the abstract are *undersea* earthquakes. Could it be that the water magnifies an electric field created prior to the earthquake?

Ron Cram

I wonder what the rate of false positives might be?

I was paying attention until Key Point #3 ■M9 class earthquakes can be predicted
Maybe it was the translation to English did not do it justice.
Maybe it is technically true because the word “successfully” was omitted.
But Point #3 as implied is way over the top and reduces the credibility of the entire paper.
Just by looking at the picture of ?cherry-picked? instances, you can make a very good case that something happens to the TEC 10 to 20 minutes AFTER a quake. That in itself is an interesting development and worth study. Of course, the blackout of the nearby electrical grid might be just as important in cause and effect. But the claim that you can Identify a quake merely from the signal in the T = -200 to -10 minute window is absurdly weak.
Yes, M9 quakes can be predicted. They are predicted by someone every day. 99.7% of the predictions are wrong. Successful predictions would be news.

I suspect there’s some electromagnetic phenomenon detectable by humans and animals that pops up about 18 hours before a quake, based on my own experience during a swarm of small quakes in 2000.

Billy Liar

What could usefully be done with 40 minutes warning of a large earthquake?
Where would you go? How many other people would be going? Would there be traffic gridlock because of mass panic?

Melinda Romanoff

Note that the Sun had a massive CME about ten days before the 9 Tohoku event. Might there have been a gravitic wave associated with the CME that would elevate stress along the plate lines? These stresses would radiate the same gravitic energy perpendicular to the specific fault lines almost as if it were a flux field of it’s own. Electrons would be trapped against the sudden field as if it were a sail. This is difficult to explain as I’m visualizing it, but it really is a unique thing to explain thoroughly.

Hmmm …. false or spurious correlation I wonder? How many times has a high total electron content (TEC) occurred as measured by equipment in the ionosphere YET no quake occurs. Being active on HF ham radio where an active ionosphere means enhanced non-line-of sight radio propagation on 3 – 30 MHz, there are times when propagation conditions become good, yet, we aren’t getting any magnitude 7 quakes …
.

John Bonfield

To Billy Liar:
Lots of things could be done in 40 minutes. How about an orderly shut down of nuclear power plants, gas lines, and airports? How about getting people off of elevators, away from glass windows, and out from other dangerous situations, like car mechanics under cars, utility workers off of poles, window washers off of high rises, and just generally people pulled over on roadways? 40 minutes is enough to get hospital workers to local care facilities, cops called and firemen notified.

Paul Westhaver

TEC???
Is this akin to accumulated charge due to stress? Like piezoelectricity?
Just wondering about the underlying physics.

> … piezoelectricity?
“Even though simple laws of physics limit the usefulness of piezoelectricity
and streaming potentials as a mechanism to generate large currents in the
ground, both processes have been widely invoked to explain EM emissions and
magnetic anomalies before earthquakes. Unfortunately, neither piezoelectricity
nor streaming potentials stand up to scrutiny, unless boundary conditions are
allowed to exist, which are generally thought to be quite unrealistic.”
http://www.quakefinder.com/EarthquakeTracker/EQTdata/Sparkle%20and%20Crack%20paper_freund.pdf

hal

Earthquakes send out neutrinos, that’s why the indication looks like occurring before the event

kim

I wanna know about the infrared and the ionosphere and I wanna know about Melinda Romanoff’s idea. Any connection to the sun? Volcanos seem to come when sunspots go. Maybe not and maybe it’s something else. A piezoelectric effect could have any number of causes.
============

polistra says on October 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm
I suspect there’s some electromagnetic phenomenon detectable by humans and animals …

If detectable by humans and animals, measurable today using any manor of sensitive, automated EM apparatus; since we’re not seeing/getting any studies, results of EM phenomenon, either a) they aren’t observing anything or b) no one is looking at the phenomenon.
I think a) is operative here; nothing of note has been observed. Between low frequency/static measurement devices like magnetometers, up in frequency to 60 kHz WWVB receivers, and then HF comms circuit (hams, military and some SW broadcast listening) one would think SOMEONE has seen or heard something worthy of further investigation, but they haven’t; that’s my point.
.

Melinda Romanoff

Piezoelectrics would be the telltales of a compressed force. Field frictions suddenly, where none had before existed. What bunched the fields and made them “hard” to electrons? This is what the TEC data seem to indicate. The infrared is the same compression, expressed radially. This phenomena represents a whole new way to look at the relationship between what we now call tectonic plates and the solar gravitic well. I want to know more.

kim says on October 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm
… A piezoelectric effect

Maybe you’re thinking triboelectric effect – piezoelectric effect’s little-known (but more predominant than realized) relative?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triboelectric_effect
The triboelectric effect (also known as triboelectric charging) is a type of contact electrification in which certain materials become electrically charged after they come into contact with another different material and are then separated …
Think: Cat fur and glass rod, or shuffling one’s shoes across the carpet on a dry winter day and reaching for a doorknob for instance …
.

Kevin Kilty

It’s interesting, but forty years of research has yet to demonstrate anything but spurious and unreliable precursory signals. What would be the mechanism? Streaming potentials from a dilating ocean crust ought to be attenuated completely by the overlying water. How does piezoelectricity generate any signal when the time constant due to conduction in the crust and seawater is far shorter than time constant of the mechanical effects? My bet is that it will turn out to be a serendipitous signal…
–jim has this right. There are lots of ionospheric disturbances that presage no earthquake…

Melinda Romanoff

Sea water is just a gas at different density, but treats potentialities differently due to its density and soluble impurities. What ever effect that might appear in sea water would need a dense pair of rock salt goggles to even see it.
A gravitic resonant frequency along the solar gravity well, which would be unique to the Earth but equally, characteristic and unique to the Sun, could easily explain a build of tectonic stresses. Piezoelectrics , or Triboelectrics, may well be present, but they would still require a “hard” element and friction to manifest either. There may well be an energy threshold that’s broached at 8 Richter. Sure would be interesting to stick a balloon matrix in the air to sniff it out. I bet the seabed sonosensors of the NSA got some interesting data along that stretch. Pity they wont share. Ah, well, back to work.

George E. Smith;

So what other geophysical phenomena occurred prior to the quake, and in the vicinity of same.
Just the top ten list would do; like cloud cover; humidity etc ?

George E. Smith;

“”””” Melinda Romanoff says:
October 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm
Sea water is just a gas at different density, but treats potentialities differently due to its density and soluble impurities. What ever effect that might appear in sea water would need a dense pair of rock salt goggles to even see it n “””””
Nice work Melinda, I think you’ve nailed it.

J.H.

Some people sound derisive and off hand about scientists reporting observations that are curious and of interest to them…..!? These same scientists wish to study the matter further and say that if there is some sort of linkage, it could give potential for predicting large earthquakes. Nothing outlandish in those statements.
….. and everyone spits the dummy at them!
Crikey, where’s yer sense of inquiry and curiosity people?…. are you so crushed by the thoughts of negative opinion that you dare not show interest?…. are you so easily humiliated by the wilfully ignorant or the deliberately perverse?
I think it’s good. Study onward Japanese scientists….. you have my blessing and my interest.

DSW

Very nice explanation Hal, now that neutrinos are FTL 🙂

What a shame earthquake experts are unable to integrate the well corroborated theory and findings of Getino, Ferrandiz and Barkin. This note is from my Blackberry while travelling in a bus in distant parts. A google search will direct you to it. A brief overview in my Journal of Coastal Research. Celestial Mechanics can predict very large earthquakes as thes scientists and mathematicians show in severtal peert reviewed papers.

John Bonfield says on October 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm
To Billy Liar:
Lots of things could be done in 40 minutes. How about an orderly shut down of nuclear power plants,

Won’t get you across the ‘finish line’ in time; you need weeks of operating pumps pumping cooling water through heat exchangers et al for lingering ‘effects’ that continue in that time to produce thermal energy, never mind the continuing cooling requirements for the fuel ‘ponds’ on property.
And know now, too, it was the tsunami ‘wave’ that did-in Fukushima Daiichi, destroying intake seawater pumps and all manor of equipment and offices above (and below) ground at the site.
.

davidmhoffer

Seems to me this is a classic correlation but that doesn’t mean causation example, but one that bears further investigation regardless.
1. 40 minutes warning is way better than no warning.
2. If there is a link to causation, the technique could very possibly be refined to provide earlier warning and for smaller earthquakes.
3. Refinement of the technique would most likely lead to reduction or elimination of false positives.
Seems to me that continued investigation is warranted.

J.H. says on October 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm
Some people sound derisive and off hand about scientists reporting observations that are curious and of interest to them…..!?

Yes, those of us that have some observed and perhaps gained a little insight into the same ‘mechanism’ these scientists propose to study … we’re here to look at the possible drawing of potentially ‘false’ linkages or correlations. As you aware, “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” and if you accept a +- 5 minute window (call these “error bars”) then that same clock is ‘right’ for 20 minutes each day even though it is stopped (non-functional).
There ought to be some Ionosonde data plots before, during and after the events back in March for Japan, too, indicating the HF propagation conditions. Perhaps a confirmation of higher TEC levels using a different mechanism, and there are a number of Ionospheric Sounders in operation by military, university and civil governments too. Ionosondes can be used in conjunction with single-site DF (direction finders) in order to gauge HF propagation and assist in making estimates on how many ‘hops’ (ionosphere – ground – ionosphere … reflections) an HF signal has taken.
.

thingadonta

Maybe the neutrinos arrive before the earthquake

Jeremy

Usual case of looking for something and finding an anomaly. Pure coincidence and wishful thinking unfortunately.

anna v

George E. Smith; says:
October 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm
So what other geophysical phenomena occurred prior to the quake, and in the vicinity of same.
Just the top ten list would do; like cloud cover; humidity etc ?

Greece is prone to earthquakes. There is a type of cloud cover and color of clouds and “feeling” of weather, like “it is getting ready to rain” that makes some people characterize the weather as “earthquake weather”, weather that bodes. My opinion from observation is that it might be one of the possible precursors, but certainly not usable for predictions.
There are telurian currents ( currents within the crust) correlated with earthquakes and used as precursors by some researchers from weeks to days: the common assessment is that the method is not robust and more or less coincidences are made into a model.
Sometimes animals run away from their lairs, and dogs howl. That can be attributed to sound, from small cracks that precede the main one. There is a large sound just preceding an earthquake.
A friend of mine was over a fault line when the second big one hit (6.3 Richter), which happened to be under a sea lake. She said that the whole lake shone during the quake ( a moonless night), like a flash.

RoHa

In Japan, catfish are tradtionally reputed to be good predictors of earthquakes.

George E. Smith; says:
October 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm
So what other geophysical phenomena occurred prior to the quake, and in the vicinity of same.
==================================
You may want to get some peer-reviewed responses from the other species besides our own. They might be able to help.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zoo-mystery-how-did-apes-and-birds-know-quake-was-coming/2011/08/24/gIQAZrXQcJ_story.html
Chris
Norfolk, VA, USA

Wucash

Hahah nice one Hal.
TBH I’m more sceptical about this than ftl neutrinos.

Mark H.

John Bonfield says:
October 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm
Lots of things could be done in 40 minutes. How about an orderly shut down of nuclear power plants, gas lines, and airports? How about getting people off of elevators, away from glass windows, and out from other dangerous situations, like car mechanics under cars, utility workers off of poles, window washers off of high rises, and just generally people pulled over on roadways? 40 minutes is enough to get hospital workers to local care facilities, cops called and firemen notified.
=====================
It takes more than 40 minutes to shutdown a nuclear (or coal fired) power plant or gas line in an orderly fashion. The airport is also the same.
40 minutes is a very short time. 40 minutes is nothing, it will go by in a flash.
When the 40 minutes expires, the cops, and doctors and nurses that responded to the call will be on their way in when minute 41 arrives.
Believe it or not, most people don’t live within 3 minutes of their job.
A 40 minute warning will still be a disaster.

G. Karst

An international team working below an Italian mountain has detected subatomic particles hanging out beneath the Earth’s surface, where they may very well be affecting things like earthquakes and volcanoes.
Geoneutrinos — which are anti-neutrinos — result from the radioactive decay of uranium, thorium and potassium in the Earth’s crust and mantle. Like their regular-matter counterparts, geoneutrinos are chargeless and tiny, passing through matter almost undisturbed. Regular neutrinos are emitted by the sun and cosmic rays.

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-06/scientists-spot-geoneutrinos-which-might-help-drive-earths-internal-heat
Strange little critters, them neutrinos! GK

Mark H. says:

It takes more than 40 minutes to shutdown a nuclear (or coal fired) power plant or gas line in an orderly fashion. The airport is also the same.
40 minutes is a very short time. 40 minutes is nothing, it will go by in a flash.
When the 40 minutes expires, the cops, and doctors and nurses that responded to the call will be on their way in when minute 41 arrives.
Believe it or not, most people don’t live within 3 minutes of their job.
A 40 minute warning will still be a disaster.

As someone who experienced the Magnitude 9 quake here in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture, I have to say your pessimism is quite irritating and basically wrong.
We had basically zero warning on March 11th. By the time the seismic waves reached Koriyama, the quake early warning system at my workplace only then started to announce the quake, and by the time the automated system said “Shindo 2” as the predicted seismic intensity, the intensity at that moment had already reached 3 if not 4 and I was saying to my work colleagues “This is way more than shindo 2″.
Shortly after that I was shouting to my workmates that we should get the hell out of the building. I was opening the emergency exit doors (lab was 1 floor up) and then I was carefully going down the external stairway as best I could in – laughably – a full-blown blizzard which was also happening at that time.
By the time I got down the stairs and was running away from the building towards the not very tall trash storage areas (where I could also have some shelter from the wind and snow), the quake was at it’s fullest intensity (Shindo 6+ where I was) and all I could do was gape at how terrible planet Earth can make conditions for the beings who walk and crawl on its surface.
The current early warning system did not give sufficient warning, basically because the seismic sensors which have been laid all around the waters surrounding Japan, were designed for a maximum of a magnitude 8 quake. The system became overloaded and confused by the magnitude 9 mega-quake, and a late and false report was the result.
A 40 minute warning would be fantastic for such quakes. SCRAMing a nuclear reactor 40 minutes before a mega-quake, I guarantee you, is a HELL of a lot better than trying to SCRAM one during such a quake.
A 40 minute warning means more people can evacuate a building to areas which would be safer from falling debris and the likes.
A 40 minute warning would mean evacuations from seafront towns can be orderly and would save more people.
Sure, injury and deaths would still occur – you can’t guarantee 100% of people would be saved, but take it from me, a 40 minute warning on March 11th 2011 seems like an eternity compared to practically zero warning, and might – just might – have averted the nuclear disaster which followed on from it.

SSam

John Bonfield says
“Lots of things could be done in 40 minutes. How about an orderly shut down of nuclear power plants”
Unless the plant operators panic at the quick drop in vessel pressure and manually bypass the automatic shutdown system.
Hello Fukishima.

oMan

RoHa/10:00 AM – yes, don’t catfish sense electrical field strength with their whiskers? Seems likely that something is happening to EM field due to tectonic stress. The fact that we only feel the quake after it has begun to unload the stress, doesn’t mean that a whole lot of stuff hasn’t already happened through processes at a scale or in modes we can’t detect (yet). Which is not to minimize the problem of false positives even if an underlying physical mechanism can be identified. Fascinating and potentially very important. Me, I’d rather have the warning than not.

John Marshall

Interesting but 40 mins. is far too short a time period to do anything to really help.

Alexander L.

I see potential for AGW movement here.
Atmospheric disturbances occur prior to earthquake ==> quakes are caused by changes in atmosphere ==> AGW can cause earthquakes.
The theory that those evil deniers have been laughing at for so many years finally received a shocking confirmation!

Come on guys, knock off the speculation a bit. Geophysicists still do not know what causes all earthquakes (especially shallow ones). Fault slip is not the only possibility. Mineral phase change is another. Radon-222 escaping and charging the ionosphere? Nope, there’s too little of it and too much water to dissolve it. Pizeoelectric stress? Was being investigated along San Andreas in 1977 by Sheldon Breiner of GeoMetrics. Animal behavior? Anecdotal. High flux of ionospheric electrons beforehand? Correlation is not causation, especially when it does not correlate well.
Earthquakes are horrible, too common and too unpredictable. Let the experts work on them – and their aftershocks.

Feeling somewhat aghast at the “40 minutes too short/useless” comments here.

ggm

The answer is incredibly obvious…. just before the big “snap” happens, there will be massive compression/decompression forces on the rocks. That’s where Piezoelectrics generate massive electrical currents throught quartz and other similar Piezoelectric minerals. Turns out some of the whacky Electric Univerise theory turns out to be correct again….. (note, I`m not defending the EU rubbish, just saying what`s fact)

ozspeaksup

_Jim says:
October 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm
polistra says on October 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm
I suspect there’s some electromagnetic phenomenon detectable by humans and animals …
If detectable by humans and animals, measurable today using any manor of sensitive, automated EM apparatus; since we’re not seeing/getting any studies, results of EM phenomenon, either a) they aren’t observing anything or b) no one is looking at the phenomenon.
I think a) is operative here; nothing of note has been observed. Between low frequency/static measurement devices like magnetometers, up in frequency to 60 kHz WWVB receivers, and then HF comms circuit (hams, military and some SW broadcast listening) one would think SOMEONE has seen or heard something worthy of further investigation, but they haven’t; that’s my point.
============
the NOT looking is rather likely too.
the barometric drop before a storm is usually reliable, however I find I get ripper headaches before! the barometer rather often. as soon as the storm breaks I get instant relief.
horse get goofy and dogs snappy and silly. in unsettled weather. bees sting more at those times too.
you just need to either take note, or talk to folks who live IN the environment with animals.
a clear sunny morning can’t fool flowers either:-) Gazanias are my favorite, if its likely to rain they stay shut, or shut even in mid day if rains imminent..
I would bet any fish round that ocean area , that could, also did a runner/swimmer:-) beforehand.