QuakeFinder Blog

QuakeFinder: Against All Odds

A recent story about QuakeFinder in the LA Times conveyed the many obstacles that Stellar Solutions has faced over the past two decades in our quest to definitively prove electromagnetic precursors to earthquakes. And in spite of these numerous and significant scientific, technical, political and financial hurdles, we have made tremendous headway toward this noble, long-term goal that could benefit countless lives.

It is important to remember that science is a journey. The article compares our experience to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the hunt for the meaning of earthquake lights, and I’ll add that this endeavor is very much like many of the grandest challenges in human history – achieving heavier than air powered flight, the race to space, mapping the human genome, and effective treatments for devastating diseases from polio and cholera to smallpox, HIV and cancer. It’s the nature of innovation: we have achieved a great deal in many areas but in others we still have a ways to go.

While the financial obligation and constraints inherent in this important work have not been overstated, I must elaborate on QuakeFinder’s recent and compelling technical achievements as well as a path forward with partners that can only serve to continue and leverage the significant progress made.

Yes, Stellar Solutions spent big to see if there are electromagnetic precursors to large earthquakes. And yes, they do exist! Our research attempted to prove that electromagnetic signals (in this case magnetic pulses) exist in the days prior to earthquakes larger than M4.0.

The research efforts involved developing algorithms that could find these small signals from 70 Terabytes of data collected from our national network of sensors from 2005 to 2018. The results published late last year in a peer-reviewed journal (Computers and Geosciences) found that for earthquakes larger than M4.0 and within about 40 km of a magnetometer instrument, a measurable increase in magnetic fluctuations occurred in the window 4-12 days prior to the earthquakes. Rigorous statistical methods were used and, in one case, QuakeFinder achieved a 2.86 sigma confidence threshold on these results—or saying it another way—the odds of getting our results if there really is no correlation were only 1 in 475 (0.2%). This suggests that the increased electromagnetic activity does precede earthquakes and is not just experimental happenstance or unrelated to the earthquake process. We are not aware of any other similar research study of this size and scope, nor one that has been formally published or achieved this level of certainty.

Now the challenge is to refine the algorithms to discriminate the unusual activity from the large amount of background noise (e.g. BART trains, lightning, solar storms, and other man-made magnetic noise). To do this, we need funding and partners.

While our research did not specifically focus on earthquake lights, we developed a hypothesis that if there are deep underground electrical activity (e.g. large currents released prior to earthquakes), perhaps very sensitive induction magnetometers might be able to detect these current surges. Today, after 20 years of building a network of very sensitive induction magnetometers, which are spaced about every 20 miles along the faults, QuakeFinder finally had enough data and earthquake events to test the hypothesis.

And QuakeFinder is no longer alone in this quest. Researchers in Japan (Han and Hattori) did a similar analysis over a decade in a relatively quiet area, removed from electric trains and during the night when the trains were not operating. They too found statistical evidence of both magnetic pulses and longer disturbances in the 2 weeks prior to earthquakes.

The quest for accurate earthquake forecasting is an extraordinarily difficult and unprecedented task–far larger than what a single, small aerospace company can afford. It is true that Stellar Solutions is “hitting the pause button” and reducing staff to a minimum level, after having spent approximately $30M over 20 years building the network of sensors and developing these initial algorithms. But, all of this is far from our last contribution to this cause or the end of the QuakeFinder story.

We are hopeful that the initial published QuakeFinder research results, as well as corroborating results in Japan (and soon possibly, China) will attract other funding from either private or government sources, to continue and advance the effort. Better results may occur with the application of Artificial Intelligence techniques. We expect at least one such data mining company to publish their initial results using the QuakeFinder magnetometer data sometime this spring. And our work and methods have application to other areas of societal benefit as shown by our recent selection as a final winner in a federal competition for the World Magnetic Model. The never-ending struggle and adventure of science can be fraught with risk and uncertainty. However, its discoveries, breakthroughs and possibilities have the potential to change everything that we know and care about for the better. We look forward to this continuing journey!

QuakeFinder Publishes Peer-reviewed Electro-Magnetic Research

Groundbreaking research covering major faults in California between 2005-2018 examines potential clues in Earth’s magnetic field

QuakeFinder has just published landmark research on earthquake forecasting in Computers & Geosciences, the peer-reviewed academic journal. The study, which examines electromagnetic earthquake precursors covering the major faults in California from 2005 to 2018, advances QuakeFinder’s research into predictive indications in Earth’s magnetic field that may be identified several days prior to an earthquake.

See the Press Release!

The paper, “An algorithmic framework for investigating the temporal relationship of magnetic field pulses and earthquakes applied to California,” has completed peer review and received final acceptance for immediate online publication and will appear in print in the December issue (Volume 133) of the peer-reviewed journal Computers & Geosciences. The paper can be found at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cageo.2019.104317.

To our knowledge, this is the largest ever study of electromagnetic earthquake precursors to be published and is quite an exciting development for our team that’s been hard at work collecting and analyzing this data for over fifteen years. The data provide hints that earthquake precursors exist in the magnetic field to a statistically significant degree, and this paper represents a major step forward in the challenge faced by QuakeFinder to conclusively demonstrate the existence of these precursor signals and then work towards isolation that will allow individual earthquakes to be forecast.

The treated data set exceeds prior published research by over an order of magnitude, and suggests, with 98.6% (2.2 sigma) confidence, that magnetic field exhibits precursory behavior in the period of four to 12 days prior to earthquakes. While this approach is not yet accurate enough to forecast individual quakes, our research indicates that results will improve with enhanced signal processing.

In comparison, Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) systems based on seismic observations currently provide, at best, seconds of warning before earthquakes. QuakeFinder’s work is poised to transform definitive earthquake forecasting from a science fiction dream into an achievable goal and the team is continuing its work to perform statistically valid research beyond individual quakes or small sample sizes.

QuakeFinder’s Daniel Schneider will present these results at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference this December in San Francisco on Friday, December 13, 2019 (Abstract NH52B-05 – QuakeFinder’s Algorithm Results for Forecasting Earthquakes).

Computers & Geosciences publishes high impact, original research at the interface between Computer Sciences and Geosciences. Its articles apply modern computational and informatics-based computer science paradigms to address problems in the geosciences.

Computers and Geosciences Cover Image

Two Recent Earthquakes Shake California

QuakeFinder is reviewing data from its stations close to two recent earthquakes in California. A magnitude 4.5 quake struck at 10:33pm PDT on Monday, Oct. 14 near our Concord station and the second, a magnitude 4.8 was felt only 14 hours later at 12:42pm on Tuesday, Oct. 15 near our Pinnacles station. Both stations were successfully recording magnetic field data during the earthquakes and in the days leading up to them.

QuakeFinder is studying the magnetic field, searching for reliable pre-seismic signals with the ultimate goal of building an earthquake forecasting system. The data from these quakes will help us better understand the behavior of the magnetic field and further isolate earth-sourced magnetic signatures.


QuakeFinder Team Proposal Succeeds in Phase 2 of $1.2M NGA R&D Competition

We are excited to announce that the QuakeFinder team at Stellar is one of five winners in Phase 2 of MagQuest, a $1.2 million National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) competition to advance geomagnetic data collection for the World Magnetic Model. The pioneering research of the QuakeFinder team is well suited to this global open innovation initiative that was launched in March to attract novel approaches that increase the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of geomagnetic data collection.


Global Acquisition of Magnetic Measurements at Altitude (GAMMA). Adding magnetometers as hosted payloads to planned satellite launches with optional integration of ground-based sensors. The combination of spaceborne and terrestrial data could increase coverage and decrease risk.

MagQuest_Phase 2 Winner Announcement: Stellar Solutions