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Earth Science Technology

Can Electric Signals In Earth's Atmosphere Predict Earthquakes? ( 71

sciencehabit writes with interesting news about a possible new avenue for earthquake prediction. Sciencemag reports: "Ask seismologists when they'll be able to predict earthquakes, and the answer is generally: sometime between the distant future and never. Although there have been some promising leads over the years, the history of earthquake forecasting is littered with false starts and pseudoscience. However, some scientists think that Earth's crust may give hints before it ruptures, in the form of electromagnetic anomalies in the ground and atmosphere that occur minutes to days before an earthquake. Now, researchers are sharing their evolving understanding of these phenomena—and how they might be used to predict deadly quakes."
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Can Electric Signals In Earth's Atmosphere Predict Earthquakes?

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  • Another question being put forth as some sort of possibility.... sorry, no evidence to support this at all and it doesn't even pass the common sense test.
    • Re:Not Bloody Likely (Score:4, Informative)

      by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @06:46PM (#51162049)

      Well. That is what I was thinking too. But in TFA they reference a couple of occurrences which appear to already be known:

      lights just prior to earthquakes []


      [...] the reported tendency for compass needles to dance around.

      So, it sounds like electrical activity is something that is sometimes known to happen just prior to an earthquake.

      Weird that now there is all of a sudden an "aha!" moment.

      • That just looks like more of the same to me. You get all kinds of reports, animals acting funny, strange feelings, but there is still no recorded observation. If this were a clearly linked phenomena, it would most likely have been scientifically observed already.
        • Re:Not Bloody Likely (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @07:46PM (#51162377)

          Electric currents are known to travel underground. There's also the piezoelectric effect where crystals put under strain can generate electric currents and thus magnetic fields. Combine that with rock being heated under pressure then snapping due to the earthquake, then it's not to hard to imagine that magnetic field lines would be reconnecting in the way that solar flares do.

          • by mmell ( 832646 )
            Oh, like a lie detector for the Earth!

            We all know how reliable those are.

          • Electric currents are known to travel underground. There's also the piezoelectric effect where crystals put under strain can generate electric currents and thus magnetic fields.

            Under stress, actually. And producing very high voltage electric fields. So the impedance is very high, allowing small currents through even high resistances to transfer large amounts of energy, potentially for long distances.

            (It's almost Tesla style.)

            I've wondered for decades (since first hearing about "earthquake lights") whether

            • by KGIII ( 973947 )

              Hmm... Name checks out!

        • If this were a clearly linked phenomena, it would most likely have been scientifically observed already.

          It sounds to me kind of like the situation with rogue waves. They were reported by sailors for centuries, and despite this many scientists still expressed skepticism that they actually existed until 1995 when one was recorded with instrumentation. They've since been found all over the place now that we can examine huge swaths of the oceans. Previously it was sheer luck if you were there when one spa
  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @06:44PM (#51162033) Homepage


  • No.

    By what mechanism do they expect stresses in rocks to produce electric fields?

    • However, scientists have yet to agree on a mechanism by which the crust could create electromagnetic signals. One idea is that rocks can generate positive charges when heated or stressed in the build-up to an earthquake, says Friedemann Freund, an adjunct professor of physics at San Jose State University in California and a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. “When you stress a rock, it turns into a battery,” Freund says. “Not an electrochemical battery that you find in your car, but a new type of semiconductor battery that produces electrons and holes.”

      These “holes” are positive charges that come from molecular defects known as peroxy bonds, which occur in most crystalline rocks and involve two oxygen atoms bonded together instead of to silicon or another element. At high temperatures and pressures, peroxy bonds break, causing them to pull in an electron from a neighboring atom, and leave behind a positively charged “hole.” This creates a chain reaction of electrons flowing toward the peroxy defect, effectively creating a cloud of positive charge flowing away, potentially to the surface and beyond.

    • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @07:01PM (#51162151) Homepage Journal

      The mechanism by which stresses in rocks produce electric fields.

      Alex, what is piezoelectricity?

    • No.

      By what mechanism do they expect stresses in rocks to produce electric fields?

      There is a well known mechanism called the piezoelectric effect [] by which stress in a crystal produces an electrical field. Quartz, for example, is a well-known piezoelectric material...and also a component of igneous rock.

      So, it's not completely implausible.

    • By what mechanism do they expect stresses in rocks to produce electric fields?

      By what mechanism have you come to the conclusion that it's impossible and the idea is immediately dismissable?

      Talk about argument from ignorance...

    • By what mechanism do they expect stresses in rocks to produce electric fields?

      Quartz. Squeeze it, it creates a charge. The last 100 or so years of radio technology has depended on this. Earthly rocks got lots of it.

      But.... yawn... pretty sure I read this like 40 years ago in Popular Science or Popular Electronics or some such.

      Build an earthquake detector!

    • By what mechanism do they expect stresses in rocks to produce electric fields?

      All of this, and MORE can be explained by the Electric Universe Theory []. Any gaps in EUT are filled in by TIMECUBE [].

      It's been a long time since I've visited that site. Looks like they've had a major redesign.

  • in my experience, they predict lots of things. time for dinner.
  • Solar activity should be considered a major contender for detecting earthquakes, ongoing research at Electrical activity in the earth's atmosphere is too little too late.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      They do not need scientists: italian radio amateurs are very busy detecting radio signals [] emitted from earthquakes!

      • Thank you for posting this. I have been considering getting back into ham radio after quitting it years ago, but given the stuff they are doing, for sure I will keep myself miles away from that!
    • It is good to hear they were cleared. That seemed like the politician/managers faithful fallback "someone must be to blame!" I hadn't heard about the outcome of the trial yet, thanks for the information.

  • Just check on Lex Luthor's recent real estate purchases and make friends with his escrow agent. Shouldn't be too hard.

  • The flame spurt - no problem. There's a popping sound preceding each; we can avoid that.
  • piezoelectric effect (Score:5, Informative)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (1relpek)> on Monday December 21, 2015 @07:14PM (#51162215)
    This has long been known, and as usual not super new news.

    Even in 1975 ("Haicheng Earthquake" []), schoolchildren who had been given electrical measurement kits began to detect unusual fluctuations in ground voltage. This earthquake is one of the few that have reasonably legitimately been claimed to have been predicted on the order of days in advance, with significant population lives saved by concrete action beforehand (could be fortuitous coincidence, but they definitely saw the warning signs -- and note that this earthquake is one of the many documented where animals foretold the earthquake through unusual activity).

    There have also been reports of the atmosphere turning purple/blue around the location of an impending earthquake, which is probably what led to the work here. What is new is some more consistent effort to try to detect the precursors.

    My uninformed interpretation of the phenomenon is that geophysical / piezoelectric stress in the rocks induces voltages/currents in the ground, which in turn cause atmospheric electrical effects that can be detected.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      As a second data point, there was a whole bunch of sensitive radio receivers sitting on top of the epicenter of the Loma Prieta quake. When the data was examined, there were clear signals prior to the earthquake. A paper was published that said something like, we are not geologists. Here's our data. Enjoy.

      AFAIK, no one has gone from something happens to a system that can reliably predict earthquakes.

  • so the electric signal of the quake will get to you faster than even the p-wave

    that would give birds time to fly up into the air, and people time to get into a doorway, but probably not enough time to get out of a really tall building

  • When I was at Stanford in the 1970s there were several promising methods associated with at least one major earthquake. They included the Russian acoustic - shear velocity ratio which was supposed to change before earthquakes due to an increase in microcracks. The Chinese had two successes with farmyard animal anomalies, but missed the most costly Chinese quake in the 20th century, the Tianjin right at the doorstep of Beijing science academies. Heliem soil anomaly increases seemed promising too. The US f
  • This group predicted 7 of the top 8 earthquakes during a 2 week test. []

You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1. -- Ernest Rutherford