Quakefinder Blog

Turkey M7.2 is a reminder that QuakeFinder should have instruments there

Sunday’s M7.2 earthquake in Turkey more evidence that we should be there QuakeFinder is in the midst of a major expansion of its instrument network. One of the locations we plan to expand into is Turkey. Lead researcher Tom Bleier will be making a trip to the region next month. But unfortunately, he will only be visiting Greece on this trip, as the installation in Turkey is delayed due to political changes. We hope to be able to get that part of the project back on track for installation next year. The earthquake that struck the eastern part of the country (coverage here and here) on Sunday is a reminder of why we selected Turkey for expansion of our network. The region is prone to significant quakes, with the last really big one striking in 1999 and killing almost 20,000 people. No wonder then that researchers there are very active in the search for a practical method for forecasting major quakes. QuakeFinder has been collaborating with Dr. Sedat Inan in Turkey (associated with their research center under the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, TUBITAK). The goal is to join with them in adding magnetic pulses and air conductivity to their ongoing research into earthquake precursors, and ultimately, to save lives.

Remembering the 1989 World Series Earthquake

On the 17th of October this year, the 23rd anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake passed. It was a major earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 that was nationally televised during a World Series game between the two Bay Area teams, the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. I wonder what must have been going through Tony La Russa’s mind this past week? He was in Candlestick Park when the temblor hit, on the field as the manager of the A’s. He retired in May, and this past October 17th, he was surely with the St Louis Cardinals, at least in sprit. Would his team be required again to set foot into earthquake country again? That depended on the games, and the answer is yes. They came back out here, and had to stay through the seventh game. With the San Francisco Giants again headed to the World Series, we all recall this nationally televised seismic event. What many of us also remember is that there was a sensor up in the Loma Prieta Mountains that recorded magnetic signal anomalies in the month preceding the earthquake. It was an induction coil magnetometer, and produced four different types of signal anomalies. The first began on September 12th, 1989. It has been characterized as warbling tone that was seen to vary in frequency between 0.05 and 0.2 Hertz. It increased in amplitude to a peak of about approximate 1.5 nano-Teslas and persisted until October 5th, when it disappeared and the second anomaly occurred, which was an increase in noise on the whole spectrum (0.001-15 Hertz). This increase was about 30x over the normal noise level and declined gradually up until the third signal anomaly started about three hours before the earthquake. This was very curious, a distinctive drop and recovery in the noise background happened in the 0.2 to 5.0 Hertz frequencies. The fourth anomaly was confined to 0.01 to 0.5 Hz, and was an exceptionally strong signal that built up until the moment the earthquake occurred. Unfortunately the recording device was destroyed by the earthquake, so here the signal ends. But the controversy was just getting started. Papers were published by the project’s lead researcher Dr. Tony Fraser-Smith and a number of others, and these have been argued over ever since. Some believe that electromagnetic emissions are a red herring, but fortunately not all. Celeste Ford and Tom Bleier founded QuakeFinder in 1999, and began deploying induction coil magnetometers at key seismic locations throughout California. In 2007 international deployments began, and QuakeFinder now operates a network of 115 sensors that collect and process this magnetic field data. This has been done by partnering with businesses (Stellar Solutions, PG&E, Telephonica Peru, Vodafone Chilie), government (NASA) and Foundations (Musk Foundation). So when we remember the World Series earthquake of October 17, 1989, we might someday look back on this as a watershed event. If the means of forecasting earthquakes becomes available on a worldwide basis, then lives can be saved even in Detroit!

Manslaughter Convictions and the 2007 L’Aquila, Italy Earthquake

On Monday, October 22, 2012 an Italian court sentenced six scientists and a government official to six years in prison for manslaughter for failing to give adequate warning of an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009. We wrote about this case when the trial first started in September, 2011. Interestingly enough, in doing research to support today’s blog post, we found many journalists haven’t taken the time to investigate what brought these men under indictment for giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether small tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the weeks and months before the April 6, 2009, earthquake should have constituted grounds for an earthquake warning. Our understanding is that a local scientific technician, Giampaolo Giulani, provided a vocal warning to the government of an impending large earthquake but he was silenced by an injunction forbidding him to communicate his warning on the grounds that his predictions would spread unfounded panic. (The problem was that his technique was not well understood or generally accepted. Many theories abound, but few have been tested rigorously). Now that manslaughter convictions have been handed down, the case has received considerable attention in the media and in the halls of QuakeFinder, provoking interesting discussion. We take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of the work that QuakeFinder is doing to provide days of advance warning of potential major earthquake activity. This issue highlights the importance of partnering between organizations like QuakeFinder and government agencies, with the goal of supporting research, rigorously testing the more promising techniques, and developing notification plans for residences and businesses. Short-term warnings are really important. Several days warning of an imminent earthquake would allow many effective responses: governments could pre-position emergency supplies and personnel; businesses could alter shipping and manufacturing schedules; families could ensure they have stocks of food, water and other supplies; individuals could avoid visiting risky places such as old buildings and bridges. Such actions will reduce death, injury, and property loss just as they do today when warnings of hurricanes and tornadoes are heeded. But perhaps there is a silver lining in this story, as this incident will surely bring more attention to the dire need for reliable earthquake forecasts!   Links: About Giampaolo Giulani: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/05/laquila-earthquake-prediction-giampaolo-giuliani/ Article discussing the warning Giulani gave and what lead to the Major Risks Committee providing the reassurance they did to the community: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/earthquake-warning-was-removed-from-internet/ This article inaccurately claims Giulani wasn’t a scientist: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/22/163400917/italy-finds-scientists-guilty-of-manslaughter-for-2009-earthquake-forecast Gives no mention of Giulani in either of these two articles: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49504719/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/scientists-convicted-manslaughter-over-earthquake-warning/ http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/italian-experts-convicted-of-manslaughter-over-deadly-2009-quake-1.1005457