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!

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

The Race to Forecast Earthquakes

Road Damage due to the M7.1 Earthquake in Southern California on July 5, 2019

California State Route 178 SW of Trona, following the M7.1 earthquake. Road is now closed for repairs (USGS/Public domain).

Earthquakes dominated the headlines for three days straight recently, with a 6.9 magnitude quake in the Molucca Sea near Indonesia triggering a tsunami warning on July 6. On July 5, as reported by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck southern California just one day after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the same area.
At this time, no organization anywhere has the ability to predict the exact time or location of earthquakes or their aftershocks. The events in California were the region’s most powerful earthquakes in over two decades, made even more notable by the size of the foreshock and the aftershocks which have numbered in the thousands. And their impact could continue for months and years.
Just as society once lacked adequate preparedness for frequent and severe threats like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, earthquake-prone areas of the world like California could benefit significantly from predictive technologies. Stellar Solutions is responding to this grand challenge through the humanitarian R&D initiative, QuakeFinder. Historically, earthquake forecasting research has focused on seismic data, but our team is pursuing indications that electromagnetic data can contain earthquake precursors. QuakeFinder’s international array of 170 terrestrial sensors is collecting high-resolution magnetic field data that enables research of short-term, accurate earthquake forecasting to reduce trauma, death, and damage.
The QuakeFinder team has taken an initial look at the data from its sensors about 40 miles from this earthquake cluster southwest of Searles Valley. We discovered that the QuakeFinder station in California City shows a marked increase in magnetic activity starting 12 days before the July 5 earthquake. This is just the beginning of a lengthy research process that will require in-depth analysis of data collected locally over the months and years prior to the quakes. A review of the two most recent years of data at this station indicated several other instances of comparable activity that were not associated with earthquakes, so the team will conduct further reviews to rule out contamination from cultural sources, lightning storms, and increased solar activity as possible causes.
Luckily, there were no serious injuries reported from these recent earthquakes throughout the remote region near Ridgecrest in California, although very strong tremors and property damage took place. Due to the sparsely populated area, the USGS economic impact assessment of these quakes is currently a “yellow” (from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars). It could have been much worse (“red” alert with impact of $1 billion or more) had the earthquakes struck in the heart of the Los Angeles Basin. The substantial danger to life, infrastructure, and the economy was vividly illustrated by the 1989 magnitude 6.9 ‘Loma Prieta’ Earthquake that struck populous northern California, killing 63 people and injuring nearly four thousand, with over $6 billion in economic losses. Inspired to action by this devastating event, QuakeFinder founder Tom Bleier devised the innovative idea of placing sensors to capture pre-seismic underground electromagnetic disturbances.
Over forty years ago, earthquake prediction was recognized by the National Research Council of the National Academies as a technology capability in its infancy that could support major public policy issues and ultimately save lives in California, across the country and beyond. Their report stated, “…our analyses indicate that constructive use of the period of advance warning will depend largely on wholehearted participation and leadership from the private sector. Many of the most troublesome prospects in the economic sphere can be dealt with effectively only through cooperative planning by leaders of business. finance, and labor working together with government officials.”
Stellar leadership recognizes that scientific change can be difficult, and this is where industry-led collaborative efforts like QuakeFinder are playing a key role. QuakeFinder relies on funding and contributions from industry and university partners to continue research, expand the array, improve instrumentation, and refine the algorithms to provide advance notice of earthquakes in the days or weeks prior.
QuakeFinder has collected data continuously since 2005 through a worldwide network larger than any we can confirm. During this time, our stations have observed thousands of small earthquakes and more than 200 medium-sized earthquakes (magnitude 4 or greater) which is dozens of times larger than prior published non-seismic forecasting research. Stellar Solutions has invested $30-million in this effort, which was recently the basis of a proposal selected by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to move forward in a competition to advance the World Magnetic Map.