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Could Electron Counts Detect Major Earthquakes?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the hey-sparky dept.

Earth 106

hcs_$reboot writes "According to a Japanese researcher, the electron count escalation high in the atmosphere could indicate that a major earthquake is going to happen within 30~40 minutes. That phenomenon was observed before three earthquakes since 2004. If confirmed, the earthquake detection system could save thousands of lives."

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Even 2-5 minutes would help (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#37612924)

I have never been in an earthquake, but I have been in numerous tornadoes. Back in the 60's we did not have alarms. Now that we have them, it is useful to be woken at night to head down. The tornado warnings HAS saved a number of lives. I can only imagine that the same would be true of Earthquakes.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613082)

Of course it would save lives, but the problem is that the predictions aren't very good. Knowing that an earthquake was going to be hitting in 20 minutes would allow for people to head outside and turn off the gas to their house, then go inside and go to whatever room has the fewest windows and hanging objects and secure them before hunkering down under the strongest table available.

That being said, for the most part if you live in a region that gets earthquakes you'll know about it and the building codes ought to already account for that.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613276)

You will? I live in a region that gets earthquakes and I have no clue what to do during an earthquake or how I would prepare in 30-40 minutes. I have emergency supplies, but I grew up in tornado country and learned how to deal with tornados. I've been here for ten years and never been in anything worse than a 4.2 or so. And the colloquial advice is conflicting.

So... do I head down the basement I don't have here or what? (Also, a garage is not a basement, people!)

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

dbc (135354) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613582)

Me too. Grew up in tornado alley, and saw (and hid from) several. And saw neighbors houses and farms obliterated. For 20+ years I have lived 5 miles from the San Andreas fault. 30-40 minutes would be *huge* -- but I won't bother to nail anything down that wasn't already nailed down. I'd either go outside, clear of tall buildings, or find a strong door-frame to stand in, away from heavy things.

To the GP -- yeah, we know about it. But you are optimistic about how well people lash down their furniture. I'm pretty good, not perfect, about doing things like strapping tall furniture such as the china cabinet to the wall. But still, I'm sure my house is full of things that would fall down. About a zillion framed paintings that should be screwed to the wall, but aren't. Filing cabinets (which are *way* nasty because the drawers roll out and then the whole thing face-plants) that aren't bolted to the wall.... it goes on. But I would bet that a lot of my neighbors aren't even that good.

But from reading the article, this is all pretty speculative at the moment. It will be a long time before this effect is understood or even proved real.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

wickedskaman (1105337) | more than 2 years ago | (#37619028)

I hope you know that running outside is foolish and dangerous. There could be flying glass from windows, tile shingles, and trees falling down, not to mention power lines and old chimneys. Moreover, standing in a doorway is old advice proved to be somewhat faulty. Your best bet is it get under a VERY heavy and sturdy table (e.g., oak, cedar), inside a large bathtub, or against the side of a couch or comparably large and sturdy piece of furniture on your side, in the fetal position, hands on your neck, exposing as little of your spine as possible.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (4, Funny)

sentientbeing (688713) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613660)

The general safety instruction is make sure youre in a basement during tornados and flying at 10,000 feet for earthquakes.

Dont mix the two.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (2)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614330)

Jetpacks for all!

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

gknoy (899301) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615486)

In seriousness, generally there isn't much you can do in an earthquake. Try to find something that has a relatively strong structure above you, such as a strong desk or a doorjamb. The idea is that if your house buckles and falls, it will help divert some of the energy away from you.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#37617452)

Try to find something that has a relatively strong structure above you, such as a strong desk or a doorjamb. The idea is that if your house buckles and falls, it will help divert some of the energy away from you.

This is a myth. The problem is that modern buildings and furniture aren't strong structures. If you crawl under you cheap laminated table, or flimsy wooden framed fibre-board clad doorway, you are just providing the roof with something to crush you.

Supposedly the best method is to lay beside, not under, something with a low centre of gravity. Ie, between a table and a sofa. Between a desk and a low bookcase. The idea being that when those things are crushed down by falling ceiling beams, they can't flatten completely, so they create an airpocket beside them. Keeps you alive long enough for rescue.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 2 years ago | (#37622082)

The better idea is to implement tighter regulations to ensure building are designed to be more earthquake resistant in high risk zones and possibly providing very high strength safety zones that will form a protective zone in the event of a collapse.

In forecast earthquakes, learn to read the musical instrument that is the earth. The sounds the various elements of the crust make under load and when approaching over load, a three dimensional map over time, to more accurately forecast risk.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#37622152)

The better idea is to implement tighter regulations to ensure building are designed to be more earthquake resistant in high risk zones and possibly providing very high strength safety zones that will form a protective zone in the event of a collapse.

Errr, all that in 2-5 minutes?

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

Arrepiadd (688829) | more than 2 years ago | (#37622812)

I've seen that theory in the past (it's called Triangle of Life [wikipedia.org] ) and apparently it's not as consensual as it may seem.
I'm not saying it's false because I have a Wikipedia link, but for future reference I think it's worth it having a counterclaim right here. At least everyone can (at least) think about it.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#37623050)

Thanks for the link.

Note that even in the Wiki article, it says the Red Cross no longer recommends doorways because they are not structural. And yet the OP still automatically used the old "desk/door-jamb" canard. (Indeed, some of the links in the article casually contrast the "discredited" ToL theory with the "proven safe" technique of sheltering in doorways.)

For me, the point about the Triangle of Life theory is that the old duck'n'cover advice is based on even less testing and experience than ToL. It was pulled out of someone's ass and then spread around for 50 years as if it were fact. Organisations keep spreading it on the assumption that someone must have tested it originally, or there wouldn't be so many other organisations saying it. (I've also seen this happen in other areas, where discredited advice is continued even after the professionals knew it wasn't true, because they don't want to "confuse the public".)

For example, the Red Cross dropping the doorway recommendation, think about how long it's been since doorways were universally built as structural elements. (It's not as if home construction techniques have radically changed in the last 20 years.)

(Don't get me wrong, I think Doug Copp is probably a loon. But the "Drop, cover, and hold on" advice is not in any way evidence based, it is just a myth.)

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (3, Insightful)

mvar (1386987) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613450)

before hunkering down under the strongest table available.

You definitely don't want to do this since a brick wall or piece of concrete falling from the ceiling would make short work of your table and, well, you. Having been in numerous earthquakes in my region, the best "anti-earthquake" measure isn't predicting when it will happen (you can't be 100% sure) but strong and well-built buildings / houses. The Japanese have had earthquakes above 7 in Richter scale (that's big) for decades but you won't see any disaster in the scale of Haiti in 2010 or even Turkey and Greece at the late '90s where buildings collapsed in seconds.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613694)

We don't tend to have brick or concrete houses here in California, but yes you are better off sheltering next to a sturdy sofa, desk, or bed, not under a table.

When buildings do collapse, they often form triangular voids right next to those sorts of objects which take the brunt of the force and compress a bit without disappearing entirely. A table will likely collapse and just make whatever crushes you a bit thicker and pointier.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37618864)

Is there another scale besides "Richter"?

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613828)

You would be better off getting into your car and fastening the seat belt.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37623398)

You'd be even better off in a flying airplane.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614364)

Of course it would save lives, but the problem is that the predictions aren't very good. Knowing that an earthquake was going to be hitting in 20 minutes would allow for people to head outside and turn off the gas to their house, then go inside and go to whatever room has the fewest windows and hanging objects and secure them before hunkering down under the strongest table available.

That being said, for the most part if you live in a region that gets earthquakes you'll know about it and the building codes ought to already account for that.

Well, you *HOPE* that is the case that the building is strong enough and the code was capable of taking the earthquake into account. There's also a bunch of heritage buildings that aren't up to modern code, too.

Usually it's places along the eastern rim of the Ring of Fire (i.e., west coast of North America) that are the most iffy.

Having even just 20 minutes of warning is enough to turn off gas mains (and have gas company do same), have electricity turned off, fill bathtubs with emergency water, and seek out clearings. A lot of deaths from earthquakes don't happen from the building crushing survivors, but in the aftermath of fire and general chaos.

Hell, most parents would kill for a minute of warning so they can gather up their children in a safe meeting spot rather than race through a house with questionable structural integrity.

Re:Even 2-5 minutes would help (2)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 2 years ago | (#37616496)

but I have been in numerous tornadoes

Is this related to your username? :-)

Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Xacid (560407) | more than 2 years ago | (#37612934)

Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake? While I see this being helpful I can't see saving thousands of lives - at least not in the immediate future.

However, since you can't exactly evacuate a major city in that time - could a "earthquake shelter" be created? That seems like the most reasonable route to go if it's something that can be engineered to withstand some crazy forces - including buildings falling on it.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37612998)

So get out of tall buildings and go to an open field/area ? I would think that during an earthquake that's probably your best plan of action. As opposed to going into some sort of shelter that could collapse on you.

And if you have notice of an incoming earthquake, that's something could actually try to do, instead of just doing nothing.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613680)

I recall an earthquake incident in japan decades ago where people decided to flee from the fires in the aftermath of an earthquake.. by doing what you said (gathering in an open field), and ended up being circled by fire and burned alive :-(

Tokyo, 1923 (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#37616110)

That would be the Honjo tragedy (see p. 8 of this pdf [bupedu.com] for gory details) of the Great Kanto Earthquake [wikipedia.org] that demolished Tokyo at two minutes before noon on 1 September 1923.

The Honjo tragedy was just the best-known of many sub-firestorms in open fields that developed as the city built largely of wood, and filled with people cooking lunch on open-fire hibachis, got hit by a magnitude 7.9 - 8.2 (depending on the source) earthquake. More than 100,000 people died in the earthquake and resulting fire and, of these, between 30,000 and 40,000 died at Honjo. People in open fields miles from the flames died of hypoxia or were baked by superheated, oxygen-poor air; people in open fields closer to the flames died from burning, falling debris. It was about as horrible as horrible gets, and we may all hope that, however we go, it won't be like that.

As an aside, it is difficult to overestimate the sociological and political effects of this earthquake. For example, strife between ethnic Koreans [findarticles.com] and Japanese [wikipedia.org] led to the massacre of thousands of Koreans and other ethnic minorities following the earthquake and firestorm. After the event, watch our for your fellow survivors, too.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613010)

Warnings would allow people to stop trains, get off of bridges, lock cabinets etc....

Would you rather be on a train going 60 miles/hour which may derail in an earthquake, or one that is stopped/slowed down? Would you rather be on a bridge or on land? There are a lot of things you can do to get ready for an earthquake.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614114)

You don't feel an (at least 7.5) earthquake while driving, so unless the coming one is really strong, imho it doesn't make any sense to stop the train.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (2)

rednip (186217) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615078)

You don't feel an (at least 7.5) earthquake while driving, so unless the coming one is really strong, imho it doesn't make any sense to stop the train.

One way or another, you'd feel differently about driving if they road suddenly wasn't there. Also, I'm sure that even in CA, trains stop asap in an earthquake.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

socz (1057222) | more than 2 years ago | (#37617066)

I and many others i'm sure, disagree... lesser earthquakes feel like a flat tire, that's why many might THINK "you don't feel anything less than a 7.5." It also depends on the type of quake.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613014)

Five minutes would be enough to help a lot. Not evacuating a city, just evacuating the buildings - get people onto the streets. Sure, a few buildings will fall on them - but the casualties will be lower than if the people were inside that building.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613022)

a 1 minute warning is enough for people to get into doorways, under strong furniture, or simply get out from under things that could shake off shelves, etc.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

mukund (163654) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613028)

Evacuate cities?

People need to get out of buildings and away from things that can fall on them when there's a major earthquake.

Here most people die when they're crushed under concrete and other building materials (stone, bricks, etc.) in poorly constructed homes.

Something that says an earthquake is imminent would definitely help.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613110)

Around here you're best off in one of the modern high rises. Just make sure that you're not next to one as panes of glass can fall. I think most of those will happily handle an 8.0+ earthquake

OTOH, outside you have falling glass and electric lines to worry about.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613132)

Evacuate cities?

People need to get out of buildings and away from things that can fall on them when there's a major earthquake.

Here most people die when they're crushed under concrete and other building materials (stone, bricks, etc.) in poorly constructed homes.

Something that says an earthquake is imminent would definitely help.

Not so easy. Depends on your building. And the quake. If you are in a quake resistant building, you're better off staying inside and avoiding debris like the 50 stories of glass windows that are about to cascade down on you. If you are in an old masonry building, it might make sense. If you are in a fairly undeveloped area without 50 stories of glass windows, perhaps outside would be good. If you're on the coast, perhaps not.

However, 30 minutes of warning does give you more options to think about. You could determine ahead of time your strategy. You might build an 'earthquake bunker' inside a building. Unfortunately, from TFA, even if this phenomena is true, the current GPS constellation isn't set up to measure this in real time. But since earthquake prediction is one of the Holy Grail's of science, it deserves to be studied some more. Perhaps you could build local electron sensors ... or whatever.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613042)

Earthquake warnings save lives by limiting secondary damage. Most notably, warnings allow utilities time to close gas valves to prevent broken pipes from starting fires. 30 to 40 minutes is also enough time to clear bridges and tunnels.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613068)

In Japan, where they're doing this research, it not only needs to be able to withstand potentially buildings falling on it, but also a 30-foot wave falling on (and in?) it.

Being able to predict that tsunami (or the possibility of it) 30 minutes earlier would have been a huge help to a lot of people in Japan, as it wasn't the earthquake that killed most of them.

Of course, you'd still have to combat this problem: (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365569/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-Aftershocks-10k-missing-Minami-Sanrik.html) "Despite the first tsunami warning being issued to the town that lies two miles from the coastline, some residents decided to stay in their homes instead of fleeing"

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (3, Insightful)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613144)

Well, for earthquakes near major infrastructure like, say, nuclear reactor, they could initiate a reactor shutdown before the earthquake starts. In places like California with the double-decker freeways, you may be able to get motorists at least off the bridges onto more solid land. You could have trains come to a halt, too. And, you could get emergency personnel paged and at the ready.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

Xacid (560407) | more than 2 years ago | (#37621270)

Well put!

My initial thought was trying to clear out a place like NYC out of the way of all the falling debris, but protecting populations from our infrastructure like you mention (including natural gas as someone else mentioned) seems more reasonable.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613178)

Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake? While I see this being helpful I can't see saving thousands of lives - at least not in the immediate future.

Before the SCADA control system drops due to destruction, you can slam all natural gas valves shut. Well, at half an hour, you could darn near depressurize the system... Instantly, no deaths due to fire.

Also its practically impossible to be crushed under a building by an earthquake, if you're outside and "far away" from buildings. Yet another reason it sucks to live in an urban area, but for the rest of us...

Finally its difficult to be crushed under a bridge or trapped in a subway tunnel if they've been evacuated...

I would hazard a guess that you could reduce fatalities by about 75% to 90% with this system... until false alarms make it ignored, etc.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (0)

multimediavt (965608) | more than 2 years ago | (#37617948)

Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake? While I see this being helpful I can't see saving thousands of lives - at least not in the immediate future.

Before the SCADA control system drops due to destruction, you can slam all natural gas valves shut. Well, at half an hour, you could darn near depressurize the system... Instantly, no deaths due to fire.

Also its practically impossible to be crushed under a building by an earthquake, if you're outside and "far away" from buildings. Yet another reason it sucks to live in an urban area, but for the rest of us...

Finally its difficult to be crushed under a bridge or trapped in a subway tunnel if they've been evacuated...

I would hazard a guess that you could reduce fatalities by about 75% to 90% with this system... until false alarms make it ignored, etc.

I am guessing by this response that you have never lived in an urban area. There's no way you are going to be able to do much of anything useful (except maybe your natural gas shut off scenario) in 30-40 minutes. Municipalities can't react that fast nor can anyone really escape that fast. You cannot shutdown and evacuate an entire subway system that quickly. You couldn't even deploy police to assist with that in enough time.

I'm sorry. Even if this method proves viable the time to react is just too damn short. It takes hours (if not days) to evacuate hurricane areas in the southern U.S. And that's with several days or hours notice of impact. And you think 30-40 minutes will be sufficient to evac Los Angeles or San Francisco? Hardly! The death toll would be worse, especially if people are stuck in their cars on freeways, bridges and overpasses. 1989 earthquake in the Bay Area ring a bell?

It is a breakthrough, but not one of much practical use for saving "thousands" of lives when millions more are casualties. Something better has to be found. If this method could be refined to give days, or better yet weeks notice then it might be useful. Until then we are at the mercy of Mother Nature on earthquakes.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#37618406)

I am guessing by this response that you have never lived in an urban area. There's no way you are going to be able to do much of anything useful (except maybe your natural gas shut off scenario) in 30-40 minutes. Municipalities can't react that fast nor can anyone really escape that fast. You cannot shutdown and evacuate an entire subway system that quickly. You couldn't even deploy police to assist with that in enough time.

I don't see this. You're not trying to move people out of the city, but merely out of the building or into a relatively safe spot in the building. It's not enough time to empty a big skyscraper, but most buildings aren't that big.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613844)

People will go outside, turn off there case and then stay outside. Or get into a vehicle and wait. Far safer then inside a building.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#37616096)

Thousands of lives are saved by the 3-5 minute warnings given for tornadoes that affect a much smaller area. 30 minutes is enough to get people off elevated roadways (and stopped on the side of all the other roads), stop the trains, turn off the gas lines, fill emergency water supplies, get to the safest room of the house, and contact family to communicate a plan for afterwards. 30 minutes warning for a major disaster is a freaking eternity, you can't stop the building toppling if they're going to topple, but you can prevent a host of other causes of injury. An accurate 5 minute warning would save hundreds of lives, 30 minutes would cut fatalities to a fraction their current levels.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#37616720)

It's enough time to clear bridges, multi-level freeways and things like that. Or for people to get out of poorly constructed buildings.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#37618202)

Not to be overly cynical but 30-40 minutes to brace for a major earthquake?

Are you kidding? That's enough time to save perhaps 9 out of 10 people in an earthquake. It's more than enough time to evacuate all but the largest buildings. It's more than enough time to get people away from bodies of water and the possibility of tsunami. You can clear bridges and underpasses, anywhere that has an elevated chance of killing people. It's enough time to shut down gas mains and operating tables. You don't need to get people out of the city, you just need to get them out of the more dangerous situations. And just shutting down utilities would greatly reduce the risk of fires.

The problem as I see is a high false positive rate. If there are a lot of false alarms, then people won't respond to a real danger.

However, since you can't exactly evacuate a major city in that time - could a "earthquake shelter" be created?

Middle of a parking lot away from buildings, for example, would be an adequate earthquake shelter. In a dense city, I'd recommend packing people into "green spaces" and other open places away from buildings. Subways and other underground structures shouldn't be too bad either. They are. all else being equal, somewhat more resistant to earthquakes than surface buildings.

Re:Earthquake Shelter? (1)

Obfiscator (150451) | more than 2 years ago | (#37622984)

People have covered most of the important points so far, but I'd say another great feature is waking people up in the first place. Here in Japan, the Kobe earthquake in the mid 1990s struck just before 6AM, when many people are still sleeping. Friends have told me that it was not a very fun thing to wake up to. Better to be mentally prepared than in a panicked sleep-fog.

Hopefully it is 100% reliable. (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37612954)

Hopefully it is 100% reliable.
At least in Italy. [slashdot.org]

And the Number of False Positives? (2)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#37612960)

“I think it’s worthwhile to document it like this, to see what will happen with the next event,” Kanamori says, “but I can’t be completely convinced.”

I can't seem to access the paper but can anyone tell me how long of a time range was surveyed and how many times the electron counts spiked when there wasn't a massive earthquake?

Granted, it still could be useful to use as a percentage or forecast if intersecting this statistic with other [slashdot.org] metrics [slashdot.org] .

Like Animals Acting Weird Before Quakes? (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613088)

The standard earthquake warning is animals acting weird - "Wow, my cat started acting really weird before that earthquake!" "Your cat also acts weird when there isn't an earthquake."

Now we've got to worry every time our electrons start acting weird?

Re:And the Number of False Positives? (2)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613360)

Electrons are negative, not positive

...your point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613520)

Who said electrons were positive?

Re:...your point? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614896)

Weird electrons might be positive..

Re:...your point? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 2 years ago | (#37620534)

Then they're called positrons.

Re:And the Number of False Positives? (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615530)

“I think it’s worthwhile to document it like this, to see what will happen with the next event,” Kanamori says, “but I can’t be completely convinced.”

I can't seem to access the paper but can anyone tell me how long of a time range was surveyed and how many times the electron counts spiked when there wasn't a massive earthquake?

Only a few hours prior to the earthquake. The paper doesn't really discuss using this as a forecasting tool, only analyzing whether similar anomalies occurred immediately before other earthquakes. The point being that it is much too early to be looking at the effectiveness of this information for forecasting; the next step after observing the anomaly before/during this earthquake is to see if a similar anomaly occurred before/during other large earthquakes; if there were similar anomalies, then it might be worth expanding the analysis to see if it is usable as a warning/forecasting tool.

It appears that they found a small anomaly with the 2004 Sumatra quake (using GPS data from a station in Phuket) and the 2010 Chilean earthquake (using GPS data from stations in Argentina), but limited GPS station coverage doesn't allow a really rigorous comparison. They did not see evidence of a similar anomaly prior to earthquakes in the 7.0-8.0 range that occurred in the more-densely instrumented Japan.

Dense network of GPS Satellite? (3, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#37612966)

TFA says:

There is a dense network of GPS satellites, especially over earthquake-prone areas like Japan,

Is GPS satellite distribution not uniform-on-average across the globe? Sombody can 'splains?

Re:Dense network of GPS Satellite? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613018)

Unless all GPS satellites are on polar orbits, the satellite density should be highest above the equator, and lowest above the poles.

Re:Dense network of GPS Satellite? (2)

forand (530402) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613374)

All GPS satellites are in inclined orbits [wikipedia.org] . Your statement only holds if you expect them to be in non-inclined orbits.

Re:Dense network of GPS Satellite? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613790)

No. Assuming with non-inclined orbits you mean equatorial orbits (i.e. inclination 0), then no inclination would mean satellites only above the equator (which of course would also be a maximum). However what I (wrongly, as I now see, at least for the original constellation; unfortunately Wikipedia doesn't tell what the current one looks like) assumed was different inclination for different GPS satellites.

But then, the satellite density is still not evenly distributed on average. Indeed, over the poles the satellite density is zero because there's not a single polar (or even close to polar) satellite. Which still looks pretty minimal to me. Moreover, the satellites make two complete orbits a sideral day (another fact I didn't know), therefore also the distribution on the longitude is not equal (otherwise it would average out due to the mismatch between orbit time and earth rotation).

Re:Dense network of GPS Satellite? (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613420)

Is GPS satellite distribution not uniform-on-average across the globe?

Yeah... the phrase to google for is "high latitude GPS coverage". Its remarkably poor over the north pole, for example. Oh good enough to use, but commercial grade RX are optimized for plenty of overhead coverage and there is zero overhead coverage at all at the pole, and some commercial RX freak out because they see like 20 low elevation satellites and can't decide which to use, so their precision goes bonkers at the pole. Still better than the alternatives, but not as good as low altitude.

There are differences between military and civilian RX, and its not just temperature ratings and cost. (also non-military rx have to shut down at ICBM altitudes and at artillery speeds, or they are classed as regulated export controlled munition devices)

Re:Dense network of GPS Satellite? (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615650)

TFA says:

There is a dense network of GPS satellites, especially over earthquake-prone areas like Japan,

Is GPS satellite distribution not uniform-on-average across the globe? Sombody can 'splains?

It isn't the density of GPS satellites that is the main issue, but the density of GPS ground stations. Japan has a very dense network of GPS ground stations for monitoring ground movements. The technique they are using integrates over the line of sight between a GPS ground station and the orbiting GPS satellite in order to determine the total electron content on that path. With only one ground station in a given area you would only have one LOS to each satellite, and a very sparse picture of any TEC (total electron content) anomaly (assuming you even have an LOS going through the appropriate area). More ground stations with criss-crossing LOS gives a much better picture of any anomaly (plus a more powerful statistical analysis).

Re:Dense network of GPS Satellite? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#37616374)

Awesome - now I get it. Thanks!

Three out of how many? (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37612972)

That phenomenon was observed before three earthquakes since 2004.

Certainly this opens an argument for more research in this area. However how about actually figuring out if it's not just co-incidence before talking about building "detection systems" and putting numbers to the "lives saved". Otherwise you're going to get all geologists arrested and extradited to Italy to face manslaughter charges.

Re:Three out of how many? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614854)

The problem with this is that it is correct! It also flies in the face of the common Geologic Theories. The simple fact is that solar flares trigger earthquakes and actually the data showed up in the ionosphere before every major quake since HAM operators have been measuring skip. The data showed up in 2004 more than 13 hours ahead at Ache. It showed up 11 hours ahead of the recent japan event. The problem is that when you start seeing stuff like the CME from a comet which always happens!!!! etc the obvious reality is that the theory we accept now days is WRONG and the facts are not.

Re:Three out of how many? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37624600)

The simple fact is that solar flares trigger earthquakes

And yet mysteriously are completely incapable of having any impact on our climate whatsoever. Now shut up and pay your carbon tax.

Re:Three out of how many? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37619166)

This could be related to radon emissions. And if it is, then earthquake detection will be spotty at best. Radon emissions are more common then earthquakes, but large earthquakes tend to have lots of radon emitted prior to the earthquake.

Yes, much more research is going to be required.

Re:Three out of how many? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#37619248)

That phenomenon was observed before three earthquakes since 2004.

Certainly this opens an argument for more research in this area. However how about actually figuring out if it's not just co-incidence before talking about building "detection systems" and putting numbers to the "lives saved". Otherwise you're going to get all geologists arrested and extradited to Italy to face manslaughter charges.

That was my first thought. It's one thing to say that a high electron count was present when an earthquake was coming, but another to say that the high electron count was _only_ present when an earthquake was coming. Too many false alarms would make the system useless.

HAARP in your face (4, Funny)

xiando (770382) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613048)

Natural earthquakes don't change the atmosphere, HAARP made do. It's interesting to note that Russia reported that they detected this attack against Japan 8 hours before the earthquake struck using their HAARP detection system a few days after it happened.

Re:HAARP in your face (1, Funny)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613172)

Good to see those extra electrons aren't getting under your tinfoil hat....

Re:HAARP in your face (2)

xiando (770382) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613898)

Why would a tinfoil hat be remotely relevant to the simple fact that he Russian Security Council ordered a HAARP earthquake early detection system put into place in 2006? And how is it relevant to the mentioned fact that this detection system reported the coming earthquake eight hours before it happened? Do you think imaginary tin foil hats somehow protect you against reality?

Re:HAARP in your face (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614610)

So you're saying that Russians are evil bastards who didn't bother to warn Japan? That sounds like a crime against humanity to me. Why are we not prosecuting them? Or at least, why is Japan not prosecuting them?

Re:HAARP in your face (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37618504)

HAARP is a 3.6 MW radio broadcasting around 5 MHz -- exactly how much infrastructure did the Russian Security Council have to order to be built to detect this? I'm pretty sure I've got all the necessary equipment in on my desk right now. Heck, with a new coil winding any car with an analog AM radio tuner has all the necessary equipment.

So if the Russians are spending a lot of time and money building a "HAARP earthquake detection system" and putting out warnings about HAARP-caused earthquakes how can be be sure that they aren't the ones building the earthquake generator, publishing their "predictions" as a cover for their tests, and generally using HAARP paranoia as a cover?

Finally, if you could predictable cause the targeted release of ~.7 EJ (7 x 10^17 Joules) of energy using a 3.6 MW source in less than say 6,000 years, why would you bother knocking over a few buildings -- it seems like there are more useful things you could do with that sort of power. I think HAARP-causes-earthquakes conspiracy theorists are just a clever coverup by the oil companies to throw us off their real purpose of HAARP -- to produce cars that run on auroral electrojets.

Re:HAARP in your face (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614778)

How does HAARP make earthquakes?

Re:HAARP in your face (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615572)

You think he's nuts; but HAARP is the only way to control the vast numbers of people who are required to keep the secrets that make conspiracies work. Without it, the whole system would892570945&^*^ NO CARRIER.

Crushed Rocks (1)

tesdalld (2428496) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613142)

The way i have understood this is that when far under the earths crust some rocks are crushed by the stress. The rocks being crushed caused the electron cloud. Russia noted this earlier this year saying the had an cloud over Kentucky. Nothing ever happened.

Re:Crushed Rocks (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613500)

The way i have understood this is that when far under the earths crust some rocks are crushed by the stress. The rocks being crushed caused the electron cloud. Russia noted this earlier this year saying the had an cloud over Kentucky. Nothing ever happened.

Well, not nothing, some rocks were crushed. Crushed rock does not always imply earthquake.

Re:Crushed Rocks (1)

tesdalld (2428496) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615132)

I was typing while someone was talking. Sorry for the bad grammar. The way i understood it was far down in the earth rocks are getting crushed causing their ions to "energize" the upper atomosphere. What i meant when i said "nothing" was that there was no earth quake.

Piezoelectric (2)

Antony T Curtis (89990) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613156)

It has been suspected for quite a long time that there may be a detectable piezoelectric effect before major earthquakes caused by the changing stresses in rocks.

Time will tell if this is the much anticipated cause of the effect that the researcher has found.

Cause and Effect backwards (2)

mrxak (727974) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614618)

Clearly this is some James Bond villain's satellite weapon firing electrons at the Earth's crust to cause an earthquake. That's why the electrons show up in the atmosphere first, then the earthquake happens after. I think we need to investigate large construction company CEOs, one of them clearly has a doomsday machine.

Re:Piezoelectric (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37618482)

Mod parent up. That was my immediate thought, given that 60% of the Earth's crust is SiO2, which exhibits piezoelectricity.

Re:Piezoelectric (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37622614)

It has been suspected for quite a long time that there may be a detectable piezoelectric effect before major earthquakes caused by the changing stresses in rocks.

The problem with this is it depends on the type of rock overlying the fault and the movement type of the fault, horizontal, vertical or sideways. If the fault has been locked for a while then there may be no warning at all, in fact the faultline may not even be known as a faultline. An excellent example of this is the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand about September 2010, it occurred with no warning of any kind on a fault that had not even been detected because it had been locked for so long it was buried under several hundred metres of gravel eroded from the Mountains on the other side of the canterbury plains.

number of false positives? (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613256)

Weather studies have shown that above 80% false positives (i.e. 4 out 5 dont occur), almost everyone ignores warnings. These scientist would need to track electron levels for a large number of recent quakes to see if this is the case.

Related effect, Schumann resonance (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613448)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schumann_resonances

Anyone know EM wave physics well? Would the published levels of changing ionospheric charge modify the Schumann resonance enough to allow for remote (global?) detection by watching the ~7Hz wavebands?

Re:Related effect, Schumann resonance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37622736)

Work on this has been carried out in the Physics Department University of Otago New Zealand. I'm not sure of any papers or results.

I remember reading about RADON releases (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613484)

and earthquakes. Either concentration in atmosphere or ground water. Just googling RADON and earthquakes results in a good number of hits.

Re:I remember reading about RADON releases (2)

Commontwist (2452418) | more than 2 years ago | (#37617406)

Hmm... Electrons suggest electric current.

I'd toss in the theory that the pre-stresses of an earthquake generate atomic-power level electric currents in the metal ores of the earth's crust. Induction ala the theory that transformers use thus causes electric current to be generated at a certain point in the earth's atmosphere, possibly because it's a good medium for this type of induction.

Just a thought.

HAARP (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613558)

It was because someone was activating HAARP [youtube.com] (Conspiracy theory alert)

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation (2)

FriendlyPrimate (461389) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613780)

Given the electrons show up 30 minutes BEFORE an earthquake, isn't it obvious that earthquakes are caused by electrons in the atmosphere? Case closed.

Re:Correlation Does Not Imply Causation (1)

FriendlyPrimate (461389) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613842)

Come to think about it, I think I'm going to go tell the Electric Universe folks about this theory. They'd go ape on the possibility that earthquakes are caused by electricity!

You're welcome.

Re:Correlation Does Not Imply Causation (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614540)

Given the electrons show up 30 minutes BEFORE an earthquake, isn't it obvious that earthquakes are caused by electrons in the atmosphere?

Case closed.

Good catch there. So if the globe was surrounded by tinfoil, the electrons would be dissipated, and voila - no more earthquakes!

Re:Correlation Does Not Imply Causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37615076)

Direct evidence of the link of electron power versus gravity's power... They are one in the same.
Electron orbits around an atom will naturally attach itself to another "synced" orbit.
Real tough to understand eh? This is what holds things/substances together.
And why they tear themselves apart. They "lose" some electrons to the atmosphere,
trying to "balance" something.
Maybe the galactic plasma charged network of the "Electric Sun Theory?'.

Re:Correlation Does Not Imply Causation (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37618596)

"Electric Sun Theory?"

I think they call that a light bulb and it's why I can now read late at night.

Angels don't play this HAARP... (1)

redwraith94 (1311731) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613798)

I am glad to see that I was not the only one to think of HAARP when I heard this, though I must say after looking into it I still don't see how something like HAARP heating the ionosphere could really trigger an earthquake. On the other hand I don't see how the Earth could be making the ionosphere fluctuate so much without at least the magnetic field going haywire. Bloody interesting to know what Phenomena would cause that regardless.

Re:Angels don't play this HAARP... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614264)

In theory, heating of the ionosphere could create virtual lenses and mirrors to direct selected radio frequencies over the horizon and to a particular target. One of the proposed applications of HAARP was to "create huge, extremely low frequency (ELF) virtual antennas used for earth-penetrating tomography peering deep beneath the surface of the ground". Of course these applications might be more for getting federal dollars than anything practical today.

So if in theory HAARP can steer a particular frequency to a particular target, then what magnitude of energy would be required to have focused EM waves cause earthquakes, and are there any possible shortcuts, like resonance, that could make the energy budget to mess with plate tectonics cheaper?

Re:Angels don't play this HAARP... (2)

redwraith94 (1311731) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615424)

I have heard the theories about injecting saltwater into natural gas wells causing minor earthquakes, and the fact that there are no recorded earthquakes form the Marianas trench region, supposedly due to the large amount talc rich mud that acts as a lubricant between the plates. Both of those make sense to me, and that is pretty much the limit of my 'expertise' in plate tectonics; The only way that I could see it being possible is if, somehow they were able to create waves in the magma, and peak the stress near a fault line. It seems to me that it would be far too difficult with our present technology to do. I think it would be very difficult to even create a focused enough broadcast from HAARP to target a specific geographic area. The only way I could see doing this would be with standing waves causing constructive interference only over the target, of which I don't think the array is capable of producing a wide enough range of frequencies (based solely on the antennas' size) The only way I could see them coupling would be through the Earth's magnetic field, and since no one has noticed fluctuations of that in regard to earthquakes, and that the Earth's magnetic field is so weak to begin with, though it is over such a massive area... Also I don't know that EM energy on the Gigawatt scale would be enough to trigger such a massive earthquake, I couldn't rule it out, but I know of no experiments that dealt with it. I think it would be too difficult to do, even assuming HAARP has that effect in the first place. Let alone the list of targets, what would the government gain from it? If anything I would think they would have been opposed to it just because of the negative publicity that GE, and the Japanese government received over it. I don't think they would want to see a military contractor's reputation harmed in such a way, lol!

My Dad Called. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614738)

And asked for his Master's Thesis from 1968 back. (about similar disturbances in the aurora surrounding the 1966 Alaskan earthquake).

Aurora Borealis, Shinin down on dallas - can you picture that.

Also detects nuclear tests! (2)

Thagg (9904) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615160)

Curiously, the exact same idea has been used to detect (ok, after the fact) nuclear tests. [slashdot.org] For nuclear tests, the mechanism of the ionosphere disturbance makes a little more sense than for an earthquake.

Re:Also detects nuclear tests! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37622104)

Are you suggesting that these earthquakes have been caused by nuclear tests? Perhaps North Korea is behind that devastating Japan quake.

Silly question.... (1)

poofmeisterp (650750) | more than 2 years ago | (#37615542)

...but is this coincidental or scientifically-correct information? How often do the electron counts rise when there are no earthquake events? How often do the electron counts rise when there is an earthquake in an area on the globe nowhere near yours? Does the electron rate rise because of an impending earthquake or does an electron rise show that something is happening with the sun or other astral body that is sometimes-yes and sometimes-no with an earthquake trigger?

Oh, wait, it says in the article that they are already questioning this.

*shakes head*

This reminds me of the Star Trek episode(TheApple) (1)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 2 years ago | (#37622296)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Apple_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series) [wikipedia.org]

On stardate 3715.3, the starship USS Enterprise arrives at Gamma Trianguli VI, a planet that appears to be a tropical paradise with very rich natural resources. Captain James T. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Ensign Chekov, and Mr. Spock, along with five other survey personnel (Hendorff, Kaplan, Landon, Mallory, and Marple, all of whom are killed except Landon), beam down to the surface to have a look and to make contact with the natives.

They discover a world of poison dart-shooting plants, unstable explosive rocks, and bizarre lightning storms that appear out of cloudless skies. Hendorff is shot by a plant and is killed, and then Spock is hit by another plant's darts when he steps to block them from hitting the Captain. Spock is stunned, and McCoy rushes over to assist, injecting him with Masiform-D serum to counteract the poison. Spock is more resilient to the poison and later recovers on his own.

Realizing there is too much danger, Kirk orders an immediate beam-out, however Mr. Scott reports that the ship's power systems are being drained by an unknown energy field emanating from the planet – they're losing potency in the anti-matter. The Enterprise's transporters don't have enough power to beam anyone back. As if this weren't enough, Spock reports that someone is hiding in the bushes, watching them.

A few minutes later, the sky clouds up and a bolt of lightning snakes down and hits Kaplan, killing him. Shortly thereafter, Mallory calls in on his communicator. He's near the village and says it's "primitive, strictly tribal," but that there's something else of great interest. His communicator fails and he runs back to the landing party to report, but trips over an explosive rock and is killed.

Spock notices they are being watched again. Kirk arranges to decoy and ambush their "observer", finding it to be a shy and frightened primitive humanoid who wears glitter and colorful paints on his skin. Kirk promises not to hurt the curious man and holds him for questioning. The man calms down and identifies himself as Akuta (Keith Andes), chief of the people known as the "Feeders of Vaal". Spock notices that Akuta appears to be in some kind of communication with someone, and points out the small antennae on Akuta's head. Akuta explains that those are his "ears for Vaal", enabling him to interpret Vaal's commands for the people, and that he is "the eyes and the ears of Vaal", who is their god.

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott calls down to inform Kirk that the Enterprise is being pulled down from orbit around the planet by some kind of tractor beam and is unable to break away. Kirk asks Akuta about "Vaal", and requests to be taken to meet him. Akuta agrees and leads the landing team to a large stone dragon head carved into the side of a hill. Akuta points to the structure and indicates that it is Vaal.

The dragon's mouth, with steps cut into a tongue, appears as a kind of doorway. Spock's tricorder indicates that it leads underground. The structure is also protected by a powerful force field. The temple appears to be some type of sophisticated computer, possibly built by an ancient civilization, with a rudimentary artificial intelligence, a thirty-foot force field, and emanating great power. Spock also concludes that it may be the source of the energy draining field that is affecting the Enterprise.

Akuta says Vaal is "sleeping", but will awake "hungry" and might speak to the landing party at that time. He then leads the party to meet his people. They appear as young men and women, but all have a curious, childlike mentality. Kirk points out that the tribe doesn't seem to have any children and asks Akuta why. Akuta doesn't know what a child is, saying that Vaal has forbidden love and copulation, and provides them with "replacements" as they are needed. McCoy scans the tribe and is shocked when he discovers they are ageless and all in perfect health. The party later observes them as they perform a ritualistic "feeding" of Vaal, carrying loads of the explosive rocks down into the underground tunnel. The picture is now clear; the people live only to service Vaal, to dance, and to gather food. They don't even do their own agriculture, since Vaal controls the environment right down to "putting the fruit on the trees".

Mr. Spock observes the symbiosis between the Feeders and Vaal as an "excellent example of reciprocity", but McCoy vehemently disagrees and says the Feeders are not really alive, but stagnating, all their needs and wants provided for by a "hunk of tin". He insists that because they are humanoid, certain "universal standards" apply to them, "the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth." Kirk says it's more important to get the Enterprise out of danger.

Throughout their time on the planet, Chekov and Yeoman Martha Landon (Celeste Yarnall) have been showing interest in one another, and during a lull in the action slip away to be alone together. A tribal couple observe the pair and try to imitate their kissing. Vaal is instantly aware of this and radios instructions to Akuta, telling him to gather his people and kill the strangers who have trespassed here. Akuta rounds some of his men and instructs them to kill the landing party by bashing their skulls with clubs.

The landing party goes to Vaal to investigate the structure. Vaal defends itself by striking Spock with a lightning bolt. The Feeders then attack, surrounding the landing party and killing Marple. The landing party fights them off and then detains the Feeders.

Under Scott's command, the Enterprise crew have been switching all systems over to generate a thrust and now, with 15 minutes left, begins its effort to break free. All seems to be working, then the effort fails. Scott says they gained maybe an hour, but they blew nearly every system doing it. Just then, Vaal, perhaps weakened by the starship's efforts, calls for the villagers. Chekov tells the people to stay in the hut, preventing them from feeding Vaal.

Kirk orders the ship's weapons to target the structure and fire on the forcefield, intending to force Vaal to use its reserves. The ship blasts the dragon head with phasers and Vaal uses the reserves to reinforce the forcefield, but cannot hold out: Vaal's glowing eyes go dark; Kirk orders ceasefire; Vaal lights again only briefly.

Scott reports that the tractor beam is no longer pulling the ship, potency is returning to the anti-matter pods, and repairs are under way, so Kirk rehires Scott and orders a scientific and engineering detail down to investigate Vaal's remains.

Akuta and his people are devastated, but are told by Kirk that they are finally free and will soon discover work, birth, death, and the normal everyday ways of life.

Back aboard ship, Spock compares what the Captain has done to giving the primitive people the equivalent of the apple of knowledge and driving them from their Garden of Eden, but Kirk insinuates that Spock's resemblance to the Devil is much more apparent than his own.

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