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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?

    • Satellites predicting massive Earthquakes. Who knew?!

    • by Dthief ( 1700318 )
      even if it doesn't detect every earthquake....if you could detect some of them with certainty that would be great!!

      My question is whether you can determine the strength/magnitude range beforehand......there are so many quakes all over the world all the time....its only the 5's, 6's and up when people really care (maybe a 4 if its somewhere that doesn't normally get a quake)

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

      Or it may be a too-often-thing. Many earthquakes are small, barely noticeable. It would be more useful if the magnitude could also be predicted.

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      It will only help if we can just figure out how to employ sheep's bladders to prevent earthquakes.

    • 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.
  • 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.

  • If there was a large release of Radon days before the quake; is it possible that a certain proportion of the elevated radiation levels locally are due to this, rather than releases of radioactive material (iodine/caesium/etc) from the Fukushima power station? Was there anything detected on local radiation detectors prior to the nuclear incident?

    This isn't a "there was no release from Fukushima it was all radon!!" post (because there quite clearly was), I'm just intrigued

    • No, radon and daughter products make different nuclides than uranium daughter products. Also radon (and daughters) only last a few days.

      • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

        No, radon and daughter products make different nuclides than uranium daughter products. Also radon (and daughters) only last a few days.

        It becomes a real problem when trapped by an inversion layer.

        • Nah. But it does become a real problem with trapped inside your house.

          • Nah. But it does become a real problem with trapped inside your house.

            Actually, no. The Radon gas has a short half life, and in a few days it is gone. What causes a problem in a house, or any building is not the radon gas trapped there, but the continual radon gas leaking into the building.

            • The usual remediation technique is to ventilate when you have elevated radon levels, and tests are used to confirm that this works (and it basically always does).

              Obviously you need both radon coming in and a house that traps it.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      If there was a large release of Radon days before the quake, was the sea effervescent?

      I'm serious. Enough of a substance to raise the temperature of that much atmosphere is a lot of that substance. I'd expect simmering if not outright foaming. We should see the sea getting warmer and bubbling like soda, too.

      Otherwise, I call simple weather.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        You can't come to the conclusion until you get the definition for larger release.
        Sure. it's about normal, but how much is that?

    • I got pulled away from my office before submitting this, so everything has probably already been said, but in case it hasn't:

      I wondered that myself, but I don't think that would be case for a couple of reasons. Many of the detections of radioactivity did identify the radioactive specific isotopes (such as iodine, cesium) that were causing them. The ones that didn't were centered around Fukushima, unlike what you would expect from a large, distributed Radon release like the article is talking about.

      • There were some reports of higher than normal radioactivity as far away as Maine, it was reported that they thought this was from a radioactive release from Fukushima. Apparently, this could have been from the large Radon release instead.

    • The isotopes involved in the elevated radiation levels have been determined, mostly by gamma spectroscopy. The main culprits are iodine and cesium isotopes. Radon is only a factor if it gets trapped, like in cellars for example. The place I was born has granite bedrock, which has quite some radon emission - so in some places, people had to install ventilation systems in their cellars. The high backgrounds in Japan, however, are measured in the open, where radon is basically no problem because of atmospheric
  • what are "knock on effects"?

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      Effects caused by the original effects.

      E.g., giant earthquake has the effect of causing a giant tsunami, the knock-on is that the tsunami knocks out the generators at the nuke plant, and so on and so on, knocking on until eventually someone gets fired for not wearing their dosimeter at the Tepco HQ in Tokyo.

  • 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 blair1q ( 305137 )

      Ball lightning is unexplained?

      Earthquakes cause changes in stresses in piezoelectric rock (e.g., quartz, which is very common). Massive piezo charges form, causing discharges, causing plasmas, i.e., ball lightning.

      Now, while this is explainable, it's incredibly difficult to prove, because to prove it you need objective evidence, and to do that you have to have systems in place to observe an earthquake, which means you have to, in some way, predict an earthquake to occur at some time in some locale, which i

      • When was ball lightning explained?

        Wiki's summary [] states: "the true nature of ball lightning is still unknown".

        There was an article [] going around about a year ago theorizing that some ball lightning may be "magnetically induced hallucinations".

        Doesn't seems very explained to me. Am I missing something?

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Ball lightning is unexplained?

        That is correct. There are a few ideas on what it could be, some more convincing than others, but due to the difficulty of observing the natural ball lightning, we can't really be sure which (if any) is correct.

  • 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.

    • Here in California, we call it "earthquake weather" when you have a real hot day out of nowhere.
      • Here in California, we call it "earthquake weather" when you have a real hot day out of nowhere.

        No we don't.

      • by PRMan ( 959735 )
        And then, climatologists get on TV and tell us that we're all wrong and there's no relationship between rapid temperature changes and earthquakes...
    • by luder ( 923306 ) *

      That's interesting. Here in Portugal we also have that superstition, although no special word for it, afaik. Curiously, hours before the latest strong quake (6.0, Richter scale, 12/2009), I remember thinking to myself about the "earthquake heat" that could be felt on that particular hot night. Weird coincidence, I am sure, since the epicenter was located 265 km (165 miles) away.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      In reality, they call it confirmation bias. as has been shown many times.

      • by bye ( 87770 )

        In reality, they call it confirmation bias. as has been shown many times.

        Or (in Greece) it might have to do with the stress caused by thermal expansion of large amounts of sun heated rock surface during extreme hot weather: providing the last straw to the thousands of years build-up of rock layer stress which finally breaks the back of the camel.

        Just like a single person can trigger a big avalanche.

    • The Californian who equated "earthquake weather" to a hot day surprise is off the mark. But long-time Californians (moreso Los Angeles and San Francisco denizens I suspect) know of earthquake weather, and it's more that feeling of suffocating, stale stillness in the air that you mention. I have a remembrance of that sort of weather when the Northridge, CA quake struck. Perhaps the feeling is attributable to an increase in barometric pressure? I think in LA it's more associated with humid, partly overcast we

    • When i was in Colombia I once saw the sky full of small round clouds. The locals told me that was a sign there would be an earthquake, and it effectively happened the next day. I never saw clouds like those again anywhere.

  • Or, they were experimenting with quantum physics, and the heat up was a backwards time release of energy from the meltdown to occur days later... oOoOoOo!

    I don't believe what I just said, but it sure sounds cool.

  • by Fractal Dice ( 696349 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:44PM (#36169214) Journal
    A good deal of the vibrational energy of the quake eventually will end up as waste heat, so my first question would be whether there is normally a heat plume seen over the site of a quake (adjusting for wind patterns)? There had also been a significant quake already in the area a week earlier. Can it be ruled out that this heat signature could be the result of the earlier quake's energy?
  • by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:51PM (#36169322) Journal

    Radon is a gas and that part of the ocean is very deep. How would it have traveled a few miles to the surface so quickly and without dissolving? You might think that all noble gases are not soluble in water, but radon is actually fairly soluble.

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      most radiation travels at near-c so.............

      • Yeah, but most radon doesn't.

    • 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 []
  • but it wouldn't take a lot of money to get an early warning system up and running. its worth a try at least

  • If Radon is being released BEFORE a quake occurs, wouldn't it be insignificant to the amount of Radon released DURING and AFTER an earthquake? And therefore, if the atmosphere was heating before the earthquake, wouldn't it be doing so much more significantly during and after the earthquake, so much more so as to be obvious?
  • They are trying to cover up the fact that Fukushima melted down several days before the tsunami, and actually caused the quake. But they are not fooling me! *clutches tinfoil hat*

  • How does one account for the fact that the fault is underwater, and the radon would have to bubble up through all that water, and not dissolve in it or be carried elsewhere by currents as it came up? Also, is the activity of the radon at the concentration it might reasonably achieve in the atmosphere sufficient to account for significant ionization?

  • They were only a few hundred miles off with the HAARP this time.. We'll quake you up yet NK...
  • TFA doesn't really give a time scale other than "a few days before". I wonder if at least some of this gas was released from the 7.1 preshock that occurred on the exact same fault on March 9(2 days before the big one). Could potentially explain the source.
  • 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. []

  • I would expect it would easily dissolve in a couple of kilometers of ocean water above it, especially at those pressures.


God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"