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Earth Japan Science

Local Atmosphere Heated Rapidly Before Japan Quake 202

eldavojohn writes "A new paper presented at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland shows the rapid heating of the atmosphere directly above the fault days before the devastating earthquake hit. This is theorized to be the Lithosphere-Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling mechanism that occurs when large amounts of radon are released due to massive stress in the fault right before the quake. This can be detected with satellites analyzing infrared waves: 'The radioactivity from this gas ionizes the air on a large scale and this has a number of knock on effects. Since water molecules are attracted to ions in the air, ionization triggers the large scale condensation of water. But the process of condensation also releases heat and it is this that causes infrared emissions.' This is a shift from the Haiti earthquake where DEMETER was used to monitor ultra low frequencies. The presence of radon could also possibly explain erratic wildlife behavior prior to an earthquake."
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Local Atmosphere Heated Rapidly Before Japan Quake

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  • Holy grail? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:12PM (#36168818)

    So does this mean we just might have a reliable earthquake detector, or is it only a sometimes-thing?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:22PM (#36168954)

    As an aside, studies have shown that naturally released radon will considerably increase the levels of radiation in the area. Could this, in part, be responsible for the increased rad levels measured around Japan in the time following the quake, and perhaps around the world (considering the magnitude of the earthquake)?

    Why haven't we heard of this radiation "concern" following other quakes? Probably because no Nuclear Plants were melting down at time to draw public attention away from the quake itself.

  • I wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by airfoobar ( 1853132 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:36PM (#36169116)
    If this has anything with the mysterious white lights that were reported during the quake (apparently not an entirely uncommon [], but still unexplained, phenomenon), and if there could be any connection with what some researchers are saying [] about major earthquakes being linked with solar flare activity.
  • by Eugenia Loli ( 250395 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:39PM (#36169144) Homepage Journal

    In my mother country, Greece, we have a word for this: koufovrasi. Supposedly (or so the superstition goes), a few hours before an earthquake, the weather becomes hot, stale, like you're choking, and it's like the sound doesn't travel as much (that's why it's called as such, which in free translation it means "deaf, boiled weather"). In the villages of the mountain Epirus, this is a known "sign" that an earthquake might hit soon. I personally experienced this kind of weather once or twice during in my early life there, but I don't remember if an earthquake ever hit soon afterward or not.

  • Re:Holy grail? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:54PM (#36169358)
    What it means, is that we have something we really need to observe more examples of, before we jump to conclusions. It's a very interesting observation though. This very well could turn out to be a way to scientifically predict large earthquakes. Only time and more research will tell.
  • No it did not. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @03:58PM (#36170138)

    No, the atmosphere did not heat up rapidly as a result of the quake. This article is total bullshit.

    1) Geology: There is no "buildup of unusual stresses" in the days before an earthquake. The stresses build up over decades: the only thing that changes suddenly is the Earth's motion in response to them.

    2) Oceanography: Any radioactive gases released by the fault (the mechanism claimed by the authors) would be released *at the bottom of the ocean*. From there it would have to dissolve in the ocean and be carried to the surface. This takes a *LONG* time.

    3) Meteorology: Any gases released will mix rapidly in the atmosphere, forming a plume stretching hundreds of miles from the source in a matter of hours. It will not form a coherent blob hovering over the fault.

    4) Statistics : the plot in question is supposedly based on "NOAA OLR data". It's been massaged to within an inch of its life, using a statistical technique which is highly sensitive to what happened not just during 2011, but to the vagaries of weather in 2006-2010. The result is a massive exercise in small-number statistics, which is then amplified by:

    5) Data visualization: Notice that the OLR "spikes" form nice concentric circles, and they seem to line up along a latitude line. Why? Because what you're seeing is data smoothed to a radius smaller than the actual size of the atmosphere being measured. The link below is to the *actual* raw NOAA AVHRR OLR data over Japan: there are only 9 real data points in the field of view shown by TFA, and they do not show any sign of a peak in OLR over northern Japan. []

  • Re:No it did not. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @06:24PM (#36172056)

    No, the data you link to is the data that's been massaged. Specifically, it's been highly averaged. The actual AVHRR data has much better resolution. Play around with the plotting tools at ESRL : []

    That's exactly what I *did* use to create my figure. Though I had to use uninterpolated OLR data [] to get March 2011 data. Both data sets we've linked to are at 2.5 degree resolution. That doesn't prove that the paper's authors don't have access to higher resolution data, but no high-res data is available at the link they cite, and, I find it extraordinarily suspicious that their little blobs of peak OLR are spaced at exact multiples of 2.5 degrees apart, and lie exactly on the grid boxes for the ESRL data.

    You can generate figures for yourself that match the article's figures very neatly.

    No I cannot. Or rather, I can, but only by engaging in statistical and graphical flimflammery. You try it.

    As for the rest of your points:
    1: Yes, contentious, but I'm quoting the geology party line here. The extraordinary claim is that despite seismological evidence to the contrary, earthquakes are preceded by warning signs: that claim is the one which requires extraordinary proof.
    2: Very clear. The fault in question is in 7 km of water, close to a gigapascal of pressure. Because of Henry's Law, you don't have gaseous bubbles of anything at that pressure: all gases are in liquid solution. Thus, the gas molecules move with the water. Which is sloooowly.
    3: The figures do not match the expected behavior of a plume of material released from a point source on the Japanese coast. []

    Oh, while we're quoting figures in the article, how about Figure 3, which show OLR "events" in Tohoku which are as large or larger than the ones they're interested in, occuring on Feb 22, 2011, and Jan 28, 2010. These are ignored because they're not larger than the error bars. But these error bars are bullshit: do we really believe that the natural variability of weather on March 9 is one sixth as much as on Feb 24? I sure don't. They're computing standard deviations using 6 data points, which is a recipe for disaster.

  • by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @08:11PM (#36173100) Journal

    The article does not explain any of this. I was a radiation physicist, I've done more than cursory research.

    "The radiation" presumably means the gamma-rays, beta and alpha particles emitted by the radon and its daughters. However, none of thee could travel more than a meter in water (a lot less than the several kilometers that the ocean is deep at this point).

    The radioactive material, is the material that will decay and eventually emit radiation. The only bit of radioactive material that is potentially mobile is the radon (which is a gas at room temperature/pressure). But I don't see how it move through the water column.

  • by MagusSlurpy ( 592575 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @09:27PM (#36173778) Homepage
    Solubility of gases in water is directly related to the temperature of the water. If the radon released is hot enough, it could conceivably heat the water as it's rising, impeding its ability to solubilize. Also, ocean water is pretty aerated already, so it is conceivable that it might hit the saturation point quickly.

    That being said, as the radon rises, the pressure of the ocean will decrease, the radon bubbles will expand, and the temp will drop, facilitating the dissolution of the radon. I think you're probably spot on, the radon would just hang around in the ocean, slowly ionizing it instead of rising and ionising the air. Here [] is one of the sources about radon being released prior to a quake, but it has no data about bubbling through bodies of water first. That paper cites a Science article [], but it seems to be just about ground water, and for some reason I can't access it, though my university has a subscription.

    If anyone wants to do the math, the 50th ed. CRC lists the solubility of radon as 51 cc/100cc hot water, and 13 cc/100 cc cold water (no idea what actual temperatures those might be). I'm not sure how to reasonably estimate a volume of water for this, though.

    I also just realized that I've been reading too many British papers, since I spelled it "ionising" instead of "ionizing." Or maybe it's because I just read Thunderball []

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