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Earth Japan Science

Could Electron Counts Detect Major Earthquakes? 106

Posted by timothy
from the hey-sparky dept.
hcs_$reboot writes "According to a Japanese researcher, the electron count escalation high in the atmosphere could indicate that a major earthquake is going to happen within 30~40 minutes. That phenomenon was observed before three earthquakes since 2004. If confirmed, the earthquake detection system could save thousands of lives."
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Could Electron Counts Detect Major Earthquakes?

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  • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:30AM (#37612924) Journal
    I have never been in an earthquake, but I have been in numerous tornadoes. Back in the 60's we did not have alarms. Now that we have them, it is useful to be woken at night to head down. The tornado warnings HAS saved a number of lives. I can only imagine that the same would be true of Earthquakes.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      Of course it would save lives, but the problem is that the predictions aren't very good. Knowing that an earthquake was going to be hitting in 20 minutes would allow for people to head outside and turn off the gas to their house, then go inside and go to whatever room has the fewest windows and hanging objects and secure them before hunkering down under the strongest table available.

      That being said, for the most part if you live in a region that gets earthquakes you'll know about it and the building codes o

      • by mvar (1386987) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @12:07PM (#37613450)

        before hunkering down under the strongest table available.

        You definitely don't want to do this since a brick wall or piece of concrete falling from the ceiling would make short work of your table and, well, you. Having been in numerous earthquakes in my region, the best "anti-earthquake" measure isn't predicting when it will happen (you can't be 100% sure) but strong and well-built buildings / houses. The Japanese have had earthquakes above 7 in Richter scale (that's big) for decades but you won't see any disaster in the scale of Haiti in 2010 or even Turkey and Greece at the late '90s where buildings collapsed in seconds.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        You would be better off getting into your car and fastening the seat belt.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Of course it would save lives, but the problem is that the predictions aren't very good. Knowing that an earthquake was going to be hitting in 20 minutes would allow for people to head outside and turn off the gas to their house, then go inside and go to whatever room has the fewest windows and hanging objects and secure them before hunkering down under the strongest table available.

        That being said, for the most part if you live in a region that gets earthquakes you'll know about it and the building codes o

    • but I have been in numerous tornadoes

      Is this related to your username? :-)

  • Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake? While I see this being helpful I can't see saving thousands of lives - at least not in the immediate future.

    However, since you can't exactly evacuate a major city in that time - could a "earthquake shelter" be created? That seems like the most reasonable route to go if it's something that can be engineered to withstand some crazy forces - including buildings falling on it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Warnings would allow people to stop trains, get off of bridges, lock cabinets etc....

      Would you rather be on a train going 60 miles/hour which may derail in an earthquake, or one that is stopped/slowed down? Would you rather be on a bridge or on land? There are a lot of things you can do to get ready for an earthquake.

    • by mukund (163654)

      Evacuate cities?

      People need to get out of buildings and away from things that can fall on them when there's a major earthquake.

      Here most people die when they're crushed under concrete and other building materials (stone, bricks, etc.) in poorly constructed homes.

      Something that says an earthquake is imminent would definitely help.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Around here you're best off in one of the modern high rises. Just make sure that you're not next to one as panes of glass can fall. I think most of those will happily handle an 8.0+ earthquake

        OTOH, outside you have falling glass and electric lines to worry about.

      • Evacuate cities?

        People need to get out of buildings and away from things that can fall on them when there's a major earthquake.

        Here most people die when they're crushed under concrete and other building materials (stone, bricks, etc.) in poorly constructed homes.

        Something that says an earthquake is imminent would definitely help.

        Not so easy. Depends on your building. And the quake. If you are in a quake resistant building, you're better off staying inside and avoiding debris like the 50 stories of glass windows that are about to cascade down on you. If you are in an old masonry building, it might make sense. If you are in a fairly undeveloped area without 50 stories of glass windows, perhaps outside would be good. If you're on the coast, perhaps not.

        However, 30 minutes of warning does give you more options to think about. Yo

    • by Mr Z (6791) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:46AM (#37613144) Homepage Journal

      Well, for earthquakes near major infrastructure like, say, nuclear reactor, they could initiate a reactor shutdown before the earthquake starts. In places like California with the double-decker freeways, you may be able to get motorists at least off the bridges onto more solid land. You could have trains come to a halt, too. And, you could get emergency personnel paged and at the ready.

      • by Xacid (560407)

        Well put!

        My initial thought was trying to clear out a place like NYC out of the way of all the falling debris, but protecting populations from our infrastructure like you mention (including natural gas as someone else mentioned) seems more reasonable.

    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:49AM (#37613178)

      Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake? While I see this being helpful I can't see saving thousands of lives - at least not in the immediate future.

      Before the SCADA control system drops due to destruction, you can slam all natural gas valves shut. Well, at half an hour, you could darn near depressurize the system... Instantly, no deaths due to fire.

      Also its practically impossible to be crushed under a building by an earthquake, if you're outside and "far away" from buildings. Yet another reason it sucks to live in an urban area, but for the rest of us...

      Finally its difficult to be crushed under a bridge or trapped in a subway tunnel if they've been evacuated...

      I would hazard a guess that you could reduce fatalities by about 75% to 90% with this system... until false alarms make it ignored, etc.

      • Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake? While I see this being helpful I can't see saving thousands of lives - at least not in the immediate future.

        Before the SCADA control system drops due to destruction, you can slam all natural gas valves shut. Well, at half an hour, you could darn near depressurize the system... Instantly, no deaths due to fire.

        Also its practically impossible to be crushed under a building by an earthquake, if you're outside and "far away" from buildings. Yet another reason it sucks to live in an urban area, but for the rest of us...

        Finally its difficult to be crushed under a bridge or trapped in a subway tunnel if they've been evacuated...

        I would hazard a guess that you could reduce fatalities by about 75% to 90% with this system... until false alarms make it ignored, etc.

        I am guessing by this response that you have never lived in an urban area. There's no way you are going to be able to do much of anything useful (except maybe your natural gas shut off scenario) in 30-40 minutes. Municipalities can't react that fast nor can anyone really escape that fast. You cannot shutdown and evacuate an entire subway system that quickly. You couldn't even deploy police to assist with that in enough time.

        I'm sorry. Even if this method proves viable the time to react is just too damn sh

        • by khallow (566160)

          I am guessing by this response that you have never lived in an urban area. There's no way you are going to be able to do much of anything useful (except maybe your natural gas shut off scenario) in 30-40 minutes. Municipalities can't react that fast nor can anyone really escape that fast. You cannot shutdown and evacuate an entire subway system that quickly. You couldn't even deploy police to assist with that in enough time.

          I don't see this. You're not trying to move people out of the city, but merely out of the building or into a relatively safe spot in the building. It's not enough time to empty a big skyscraper, but most buildings aren't that big.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      People will go outside, turn off there case and then stay outside. Or get into a vehicle and wait. Far safer then inside a building.

    • Thousands of lives are saved by the 3-5 minute warnings given for tornadoes that affect a much smaller area. 30 minutes is enough to get people off elevated roadways (and stopped on the side of all the other roads), stop the trains, turn off the gas lines, fill emergency water supplies, get to the safest room of the house, and contact family to communicate a plan for afterwards. 30 minutes warning for a major disaster is a freaking eternity, you can't stop the building toppling if they're going to topple,

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      It's enough time to clear bridges, multi-level freeways and things like that. Or for people to get out of poorly constructed buildings.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake?

      Are you kidding? That's enough time to save perhaps 9 out of 10 people in an earthquake. It's more than enough time to evacuate all but the largest buildings. It's more than enough time to get people away from bodies of water and the possibility of tsunami. You can clear bridges and underpasses, anywhere that has an elevated chance of killing people. It's enough time to shut down gas mains and operating tables. You don't need to get people out of the city, you just need to get them out of the more dangerous

    • People have covered most of the important points so far, but I'd say another great feature is waking people up in the first place. Here in Japan, the Kobe earthquake in the mid 1990s struck just before 6AM, when many people are still sleeping. Friends have told me that it was not a very fun thing to wake up to. Better to be mentally prepared than in a panicked sleep-fog.

  • Hopefully it is 100% reliable.
    At least in Italy. [slashdot.org]

  • “I think it’s worthwhile to document it like this, to see what will happen with the next event,” Kanamori says, “but I can’t be completely convinced.”

    I can't seem to access the paper but can anyone tell me how long of a time range was surveyed and how many times the electron counts spiked when there wasn't a massive earthquake?

    Granted, it still could be useful to use as a percentage or forecast if intersecting this statistic with other [slashdot.org] metrics [slashdot.org].

    • The standard earthquake warning is animals acting weird - "Wow, my cat started acting really weird before that earthquake!" "Your cat also acts weird when there isn't an earthquake."

      Now we've got to worry every time our electrons start acting weird?

    • by rossdee (243626)

      Electrons are negative, not positive

    • by demonbug (309515)

      “I think it’s worthwhile to document it like this, to see what will happen with the next event,” Kanamori says, “but I can’t be completely convinced.”

      I can't seem to access the paper but can anyone tell me how long of a time range was surveyed and how many times the electron counts spiked when there wasn't a massive earthquake?

      Only a few hours prior to the earthquake. The paper doesn't really discuss using this as a forecasting tool, only analyzing whether similar anomalies occurred immediately before other earthquakes. The point being that it is much too early to be looking at the effectiveness of this information for forecasting; the next step after observing the anomaly before/during this earthquake is to see if a similar anomaly occurred before/during other large earthquakes; if there were similar anomalies, then it might be

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:34AM (#37612966) Homepage Journal

    TFA says:

    There is a dense network of GPS satellites, especially over earthquake-prone areas like Japan,

    Is GPS satellite distribution not uniform-on-average across the globe? Sombody can 'splains?

    • Unless all GPS satellites are on polar orbits, the satellite density should be highest above the equator, and lowest above the poles.

      • by forand (530402)
        All GPS satellites are in inclined orbits [wikipedia.org]. Your statement only holds if you expect them to be in non-inclined orbits.
        • No. Assuming with non-inclined orbits you mean equatorial orbits (i.e. inclination 0), then no inclination would mean satellites only above the equator (which of course would also be a maximum). However what I (wrongly, as I now see, at least for the original constellation; unfortunately Wikipedia doesn't tell what the current one looks like) assumed was different inclination for different GPS satellites.

          But then, the satellite density is still not evenly distributed on average. Indeed, over the poles the s

    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @12:05PM (#37613420)

      Is GPS satellite distribution not uniform-on-average across the globe?

      Yeah... the phrase to google for is "high latitude GPS coverage". Its remarkably poor over the north pole, for example. Oh good enough to use, but commercial grade RX are optimized for plenty of overhead coverage and there is zero overhead coverage at all at the pole, and some commercial RX freak out because they see like 20 low elevation satellites and can't decide which to use, so their precision goes bonkers at the pole. Still better than the alternatives, but not as good as low altitude.

      There are differences between military and civilian RX, and its not just temperature ratings and cost. (also non-military rx have to shut down at ICBM altitudes and at artillery speeds, or they are classed as regulated export controlled munition devices)

    • by demonbug (309515)

      TFA says:

      There is a dense network of GPS satellites, especially over earthquake-prone areas like Japan,

      Is GPS satellite distribution not uniform-on-average across the globe? Sombody can 'splains?

      It isn't the density of GPS satellites that is the main issue, but the density of GPS ground stations. Japan has a very dense network of GPS ground stations for monitoring ground movements. The technique they are using integrates over the line of sight between a GPS ground station and the orbiting GPS satellite in order to determine the total electron content on that path. With only one ground station in a given area you would only have one LOS to each satellite, and a very sparse picture of any TEC (total

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:35AM (#37612972)

    That phenomenon was observed before three earthquakes since 2004.

    Certainly this opens an argument for more research in this area. However how about actually figuring out if it's not just co-incidence before talking about building "detection systems" and putting numbers to the "lives saved". Otherwise you're going to get all geologists arrested and extradited to Italy to face manslaughter charges.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      That phenomenon was observed before three earthquakes since 2004.

      Certainly this opens an argument for more research in this area. However how about actually figuring out if it's not just co-incidence before talking about building "detection systems" and putting numbers to the "lives saved". Otherwise you're going to get all geologists arrested and extradited to Italy to face manslaughter charges.

      That was my first thought. It's one thing to say that a high electron count was present when an earthquake was coming, but another to say that the high electron count was _only_ present when an earthquake was coming. Too many false alarms would make the system useless.

  • by xiando (770382) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:40AM (#37613048) Homepage Journal
    Natural earthquakes don't change the atmosphere, HAARP made do. It's interesting to note that Russia reported that they detected this attack against Japan 8 hours before the earthquake struck using their HAARP detection system a few days after it happened.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Mr Z (6791)
      Good to see those extra electrons aren't getting under your tinfoil hat....
      • by xiando (770382)
        Why would a tinfoil hat be remotely relevant to the simple fact that he Russian Security Council ordered a HAARP earthquake early detection system put into place in 2006? And how is it relevant to the mentioned fact that this detection system reported the coming earthquake eight hours before it happened? Do you think imaginary tin foil hats somehow protect you against reality?
    • by istartedi (132515)

      You think he's nuts; but HAARP is the only way to control the vast numbers of people who are required to keep the secrets that make conspiracies work. Without it, the whole system would892570945&^*^ NO CARRIER.

  • The way i have understood this is that when far under the earths crust some rocks are crushed by the stress. The rocks being crushed caused the electron cloud. Russia noted this earlier this year saying the had an cloud over Kentucky. Nothing ever happened.
    • by vlm (69642)

      The way i have understood this is that when far under the earths crust some rocks are crushed by the stress. The rocks being crushed caused the electron cloud. Russia noted this earlier this year saying the had an cloud over Kentucky. Nothing ever happened.

      Well, not nothing, some rocks were crushed. Crushed rock does not always imply earthquake.

      • by tesdalld (2428496)
        I was typing while someone was talking. Sorry for the bad grammar. The way i understood it was far down in the earth rocks are getting crushed causing their ions to "energize" the upper atomosphere. What i meant when i said "nothing" was that there was no earth quake.
  • by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:47AM (#37613156) Homepage Journal

    It has been suspected for quite a long time that there may be a detectable piezoelectric effect before major earthquakes caused by the changing stresses in rocks.

    Time will tell if this is the much anticipated cause of the effect that the researcher has found.

    • Clearly this is some James Bond villain's satellite weapon firing electrons at the Earth's crust to cause an earthquake. That's why the electrons show up in the atmosphere first, then the earthquake happens after. I think we need to investigate large construction company CEOs, one of them clearly has a doomsday machine.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:55AM (#37613256)
    Weather studies have shown that above 80% false positives (i.e. 4 out 5 dont occur), almost everyone ignores warnings. These scientist would need to track electron levels for a large number of recent quakes to see if this is the case.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schumann_resonances

    Anyone know EM wave physics well? Would the published levels of changing ionospheric charge modify the Schumann resonance enough to allow for remote (global?) detection by watching the ~7Hz wavebands?

  • and earthquakes. Either concentration in atmosphere or ground water. Just googling RADON and earthquakes results in a good number of hits.

    • Hmm... Electrons suggest electric current.

      I'd toss in the theory that the pre-stresses of an earthquake generate atomic-power level electric currents in the metal ores of the earth's crust. Induction ala the theory that transformers use thus causes electric current to be generated at a certain point in the earth's atmosphere, possibly because it's a good medium for this type of induction.

      Just a thought.

  • by jsse (254124)
    It was because someone was activating HAARP [youtube.com] (Conspiracy theory alert)
  • by FriendlyPrimate (461389) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @12:29PM (#37613780)
    Given the electrons show up 30 minutes BEFORE an earthquake, isn't it obvious that earthquakes are caused by electrons in the atmosphere? Case closed.
    • Come to think about it, I think I'm going to go tell the Electric Universe folks about this theory. They'd go ape on the possibility that earthquakes are caused by electricity!

      You're welcome.
    • by Dan East (318230)

      Given the electrons show up 30 minutes BEFORE an earthquake, isn't it obvious that earthquakes are caused by electrons in the atmosphere?

      Case closed.

      Good catch there. So if the globe was surrounded by tinfoil, the electrons would be dissipated, and voila - no more earthquakes!

  • I am glad to see that I was not the only one to think of HAARP when I heard this, though I must say after looking into it I still don't see how something like HAARP heating the ionosphere could really trigger an earthquake. On the other hand I don't see how the Earth could be making the ionosphere fluctuate so much without at least the magnetic field going haywire. Bloody interesting to know what Phenomena would cause that regardless.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In theory, heating of the ionosphere could create virtual lenses and mirrors to direct selected radio frequencies over the horizon and to a particular target. One of the proposed applications of HAARP was to "create huge, extremely low frequency (ELF) virtual antennas used for earth-penetrating tomography peering deep beneath the surface of the ground". Of course these applications might be more for getting federal dollars than anything practical today.

      So if in theory HAARP can steer a particular frequency

      • I have heard the theories about injecting saltwater into natural gas wells causing minor earthquakes, and the fact that there are no recorded earthquakes form the Marianas trench region, supposedly due to the large amount talc rich mud that acts as a lubricant between the plates. Both of those make sense to me, and that is pretty much the limit of my 'expertise' in plate tectonics; The only way that I could see it being possible is if, somehow they were able to create waves in the magma, and peak the stress
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @02:10PM (#37615160) Journal

    Curiously, the exact same idea has been used to detect (ok, after the fact) nuclear tests. [slashdot.org] For nuclear tests, the mechanism of the ionosphere disturbance makes a little more sense than for an earthquake.

  • ...but is this coincidental or scientifically-correct information? How often do the electron counts rise when there are no earthquake events? How often do the electron counts rise when there is an earthquake in an area on the globe nowhere near yours? Does the electron rate rise because of an impending earthquake or does an electron rise show that something is happening with the sun or other astral body that is sometimes-yes and sometimes-no with an earthquake trigger?

    Oh, wait, it says in the article tha

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Apple_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series) [wikipedia.org]

    On stardate 3715.3, the starship USS Enterprise arrives at Gamma Trianguli VI, a planet that appears to be a tropical paradise with very rich natural resources. Captain James T. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Ensign Chekov, and Mr. Spock, along with five other survey personnel (Hendorff, Kaplan, Landon, Mallory, and Marple, all of whom are killed except Landon), beam down to the surface to have a look and to make contact with the natives.

    They discover

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