Can Earthquakes Be Predicted?
We see that these descriptions make major earthquakes look much like violent eruptions, quite similar to gas eruptions from volcanoes or mud volcanoes. The airborne noises, the flames, the air pollution are all similar, and while most of the intense effects take place at the time of the quake, some of the effects occur as precursors and cannot therefore be ascribed to secondary effects of the mechanical deformation of the ground. It seems very strange that in all the attempts to predict earthquakes, no gas observations are included. Highly accurate measurements of the distortion of the ground represent the main effort, since the current theory has earthquakes resulting from a gradually augmenting stress in the rocks until they reach the breaking strain and the earthquake occurs. It is therefore supposed that one can measure the building up of the stress by the slight deformation prior to a quake. However, as a means to predicting earthquakes, this method has been entirely unsuccessful. The ground does distort on occasions, but not by any unusual amount before an earthquake.
The evacuation of Haicheng two hours before a devastating quake is an example of a successful prediction, and it was based mainly on gas effects such as a cloud of warmer air and fog developing above the known faultline, strange and nauseating smells and changes in groundwater levels. The same effects have been mentioned in very many of the ancient records.
Gases can indeed have a lot to do with earthquakes. A large volume of gas entering the crust of the Earth from deeper levels and at a high pressure, will greatly change the mechanical properties of the rock. Pore-spaces will be inflated, and the overburden weight of the rock will be effectively relieved by the pressure of the gas. The great weight of the overburden would normally have resulted in high internal friction, opposing any slippage at all but the shallowest levels. But with gas effectively bearing the overburden, slippage can occur much more easily. Much smaller values of stress in the rock will then be sufficient to cause a quake.
The absence of high stresses along the San Andreas fault was indeed a surprise to the investigators, when they had a chance to make such measurements in the deep well drilled at Cajon Pass in Southern California. They also failed to find there the extra heat that the known past slippage should have left behind, had it taken place without gas levitation.
When gas has invaded an area of the crust, it generally shows some emission at the surface that can be observed, and that results in the various effects mentioned. Of course the gases that were in the pore-spaces to start with are pushed up first, before the "new" gas has got to the surface. This brings up smells which cause surprise or consternation among many animals; it brings up more carbon-dioxide and less oxygen than air has normally, and this drives animals out of burrows; it brings up humidity and temperature of the sub-surface and thus frequently makes a fog. This contains more of the heavy CO2 molecule than the average air, and can therefore make a warmer cloud that stays on the ground instead of rising rapidly. Radioactive gases that are normally generated in the ground make a prominent appearance as they are flushed from the ground.
These signs should be taken to mean that the rock underneath has now suddenly lost much of its strength, and even small stresses will allow it to break. There was no particular build-up of stress prior to the quake, and measurements of this are therefore useless as predictors. The sudden event was the gas invasion that weakened the rock, and it is on this that a prediction method has to be based. During earthquakes and after, a lot more gas escape can usually be observed, and by then the deep source gas may have made its way to the surface. This is often combustible, probably mainly methane as this is in most common gas in deep rocks, and it often catches fire.
In China, in Japan, in the Soviet Union, much more attention is paid to gas phenomena. Japan even has a "Laboratory of Earthquake Chemistry." The US is far behind in this field, not because it does not have the technology, but just because it took a wrong choice some time ago, and now does not wish to change course. But the citizens of earthquake-prone regions will be more concerned with obtaining a warning than to be party to a scientific controversy. Sub-surface gas observations are simple and comparatively inexpensive, such as changes in groundwater levels in water wells, or changes in gas pressure above a water table. It is high time that California and the Central Mississippi region obtained the knowledge and experience in this field that will be necessary to establish a meaningful prediction service. Instrumentation operated by scientists is one aspect of this; public earthquake education and a reporting network is another, to assure the widest possible coverage for the observation of the many phenomena that may be relevant for predictions. One wonders how many such observations go unreported because their relation to earthquakes is not generally known.
Sign one: Unusual behavior of animals
Animals like snakes, rats, dogs etc. have been noted to behave differently before a massive earthquake occurs. Various accounts of such anticipation by animals have been noted through history. Many believe that animals can feel the earth vibrating before humans do. Others also believe that animals can detect the gas released by the earth or electrical charges in the air before a large earthquake. However what animals exactly react to continues to remain a mystery and a topic of study for many researchers.
Sign four: Predictions by ‘sensitives’
Many people, termed as ‘sensitive’ are noted to have definite symptoms before earthquakes are about to occur. These include migraine attacks, inner ear tones or screeching sounds. These symptoms are also noted to disappear after the earthquake passes by. While this has been noted in some people, it is still difficult to predict the epicenter of earthquakes or the exact date and time. Various sensitives are now trying to coordinate their symptoms, to predict this.
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Curious cloud formations linked to quakes
CAN unusual clouds signal the possibility of an impending earthquake? That’s the question being asked following the discovery of distinctive cloud formations above an active fault in Iran before each of two large earthquakes occurred.
Geophysicists Guangmeng Guo and Bin Wang of Nanyang Normal University in Henan, China, noticed a gap in the clouds in satellite images from December 2004 that precisely matched the location of the main fault in southern Iran. It stretched for hundreds of kilometres, was visible for several hours and remained in the same place, although the clouds around it were moving. At the same time, thermal images of the ground showed that the temperature was higher along the fault. Sixty-nine days later, on 22 February 2005, an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 hit the area, killing more than 600 people.
In December 2005, a similar formation again appeared in the clouds for a few hours. Sixty-four days later, an earthquake of magnitude 6 shook the region (International Journal of Remote Sensing, vol 29, p 1921).
Guo and Wang suggest that an eruption of hot gases from inside the fault could have caused water in the clouds to evaporate. Another idea is that ionisation may be involved: Friedemann Freund at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, recently demonstrated that when rocks are squeezed, positively charged ions form in the air above. The trouble is that ions usually help to form clouds, not dissipate them.
The authors say that if recognisable cloud formations precede large quakes, they could be used for prediction, but other seismologists are sceptical. “There is no physical model that explains why something would suddenly occur two months before an earthquake, and then shut off and not occur again,” says Mike Blanpied of the US Geological Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Program.
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