Can earthquakes be predicted?
MONDAY OCTOBER 25, 2010
A large 7.5-mag earthquake occurred today off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Sunspot count since yesterday has been way up, as has solar wind velocity, a marked increase from two days previously. Sunspot count is now 57, versus the figure of 34 two days ago. Solar wind speed has increased from 400km/sec on the 20th to 662km/sec today. As well, an auroral display, an outburst of color bright enough to rival the Moon has over the past 24-hours spread across the skies of Scandinavia.
The Earth has a magnetic field which effectively extends several tens of thousands of kilometers into space. This magnetosphere is estimated to be at least 3.5 billion years old. The sun has a vastly larger magnetic field that extends about a light year into space, carried through the solar system by the solar wind, a stream of energetic charged particles emanating from the Sun. Solar maximum is the term for the maximum in solar activity that takes place approximately every eleven years; solar minimum is the lowest point of solar activity. The last solar maximum was in 2001. The last solar minimum ended halfway through this year, after which solar activity has stepped up.
There is a radiation belt around Earth called the Van Allen Belt. Beginning at an altitude of 1000 miles, and extending at an altitude of 25,000 miles, it contains lethal bands of radiation. That is why all the space stations from the US and Soviet Union, like Mercury, Gemini, Soyuz, Skylab and the Space Shuttle, except Apollo, have maintained altitudes of well below 1000 miles. In 1998 the space shuttle flew to an altitude of 350 miles. Even at that height, still well below the radiation belt, the crew saw flashing lights with their eyes shut that they described as shooting stars, due to radiation penetrating first the shuttle's shielding, then their spacesuit's shielding, then their skulls, and finally the retinas of their closed eyes.
Earth is only the 3rd rock from the Sun, so light and solar energy takes just 8 minutes to reach us. Because Earth’s magnetic field deflects most of the charged particles, we are somewhat protected from the destructive solar wind. The charged particles get trapped in the Van Allen radiation belt, but some get through. When they do, some particles from the solar wind manage to reach the Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere in the auroral zones. The solar wind is then observable on Earth when it is strong enough to produce phenomena such as the aurora, geomagnetic storms and earthquakes.
Before the solar wind hits Earth, it strikes Earth’s magnetosphere, which in turn can spark geomagnetic activity before the actual arrival of the solar wind stream on Earth. On the 12th of January a strong solar wind impacted the magnetosphere - the same date as a devastating quake hit Haiti, causing mass destruction and killing over 200,000 people. And the monster Chilean quake was preceded by just a few days by the collapse of the largest magnetic filament ever observed on the Sun.
Many weird colours and effects were observed in the Canterbury sky just before the 4 September earthquake, and the sunspot/solar wind speeds increased between 3rd-7th(initial damage), 17th-18th(shakes decreased after 18th), 28th-29th(shakes increased 1st-4th) September, and 19th-21st October (shakes increased 18th-20th), indicating the involvement of the Sun. So, if the Sun is responsible for the energy, what is the role of the Moon?
Looking at research into aurora sightings one finds that most are around new moon phase, appearing to indicate that the Moon could have some influence of when the auroras will be visible. One could argue that a bright moon such as a full night moon could inhibit the sightings of an aurora. This is true to a degree, but the brightness of many auroras is usually sufficient for many of them to still be seen, even if they are less spectacular, and even in daylight. The intensity of the aurora displays has been linked to the sunspot cycle of 11-years, and when the sunspot cycle is low so are the aurora displays at a low ebb or nonexistent. At time of this writing it is high, and auroras, as well as earthquakes are being seen and felt in many places.
However, the main question at issue is, whether the Moon has both a gravitational effect on the Van Allen belt, which may be the cause of lightning, and on the charged particles that form the aurora's display. As these same particles escape from the Van Allen Belt to form the aurora display, it may well be that the particles will only escape into the ionosphere, from whence the auroras are visible, when the Van Allen Belt has gravitationally been drawn-in closer to the Earth. What would skew it thus? When the Moon is in a powerfully gravitational position, such as perigeal and new, with nodes lining up, perhaps the lunar gravitation also causes the Van Allen Belt to extend enough towards the Moon as to allow-through the charged particles, which produce both auroras, strange lights, weird feeling air, unsettled animals and birds, and geomagnetic activity that can lead to eruptions, volcanoes and earthquakes.
Earthquakes are under the ground. What exactly is down there? At the heart of our planet lies a solid iron ball - almost as big as the Moon itself and about as hot as the surface of the Sun. Researchers call it the inner core, and it is 70% as wide as the moon; really a world within a world. It spins at its own rate, as much as 0.2 degrees of longitude per year faster than the Earth above, and it has its own ocean: a very deep layer of liquid iron known as the outer core. It has its own tides and kingtides. Earth's magnetic field actually comes from this ocean of iron, which is an electrically conducting fluid in constant motion. Sitting atop the hot inner core, the liquid outer core seethes and roils like water in a pan on a hot stove. The outer core also has its own hurricanes - whirlpools powered by the Coriolis effect of Earth's rotation. These complex motions generate Earth's magnetism.
New moons in particular, when in perigee, activate the Earth's inner and outer core which affects the mantle. As a result of a fragile magnetic field, the charged particles may be responsible for all forms of extreme weather, including earthquakes and volcanoes. In the first week of September the Moon was in new moon phase and the second closest for 2010, a powerful enough gravitational position to be capable of twisting, distorting and warping the Van Allen Belt, potentially letting-through destructive particles.
But there were warnings before September. The 9th -12th August perigeal new moon, fourth closest for the year, saw a wave of shakes of above 4-mag in Wairarapa, Fiordland and Wellington. On 14th a 4.5-mag hit HawkesBay. More activity occurred on 17th and on 25th (full moon) including a series of 5-mag shakes around Wanganui. One would think there is enough of a plottable cycle here, rendering extrapolation to plot potential clusters ahead.
It has also been well researched that most shakes occur on new or full moons, and the most severe when the moon is closer. The moon seems to influence the timing, whereas the sun appears to supply the energy required. There is more earthquake activity right now because the sun has awakened after its last solar minimum.
The graph above shows, from 1 August to 23 October, sunspot numbers multiplied by the daily average solar wind velocity. This gives a rough measure of available potential solar energy, assuming it gets through the radiation belt. In timing there appears to have been 4 main clusters since the 1 August.
Cluster-activity appears to start about every 20 days apart and continue for about 10 days.
27 Aug-7 Sept,
Because the Moon is getting averagely (monthly) further from Earth whenever it is in perigee mode (time of Earth-Moon closest monthly distance), and will keep doing so until starting to come back closer in the second half of February 2011, so this current spate in activity should be mostly gone after November. The fact that about 2000 shakes have followed the big one is not unusual in a region after any large earthquake, but this fact is seldom reported by the media because most earthquakes are underwater and relatively few of the 41,000 shakes that get recorded each year around NZ affect built-up areas.
Because newspapers exist to sell newspapers and not to deliver news, and because most punters live in big cities, distant shakes are not particularly newsworthy, especially in tectonically-active NZ. How tiresome if every tremor under Rotorua made headlines in that region. If the 7.1-mag on 4 September happened off the Te Anau coast instead of central Christchurch, it may have reached a sidebar in a suburban tabloid if there was nothing more important to put there, like an ad for a secondhand fridge. Much of the fear Canterburians feel is because they have been led to believe that this spate of earthquake activity is something new. In the same way newspapers are in the business of selling newspapers, much of funded science these days is there to justify the further funding of science.
From the mainstream international scientific community there will usually be denial that cycles are at work. The funding is simply not geared to discovering them, but these days to look for examples of how Nature appears to be taking new twists and directions, each more bizarre than the last. We all generally find what we are looking for, because we will focus on evidence that fits a hunch or theory. How often have you read "worst in living memory" or "worst since records began"? We saw the same thing with the global warming/climate change scaremongering. This ensures ongoing funding and ultimately strengthens the case for further restrictions and controls. These end up as extra taxes, extra compliance in building codes and regulations, and the requirement for new permits and resource consents. From a governmental point of view, and the government pays the wages of the scientists at the universities, it is more rewarding to fund research that avoids finding cycles.
To say, as a recent Canterbury physics postgraduate has done, that the link between the Moon and/or Sun and earthquakes is tenuous begs the question of how such huge forces coming together at particular times can be at random, when no other forces in Nature behave that way. It is one thing to say there may be a causality but we haven't found it yet, and quite another to state there is unlikely to be one because thus far no evidence has been found. Science has never had an appetite for the finding the Moon to be a player in anything concerning extreme weather, a hangover from the days when the Holy Church considered the Moon to be the symbol of paganism. Even number 13, called the Moon's number by the ancients because many lunar orbits factor to 13, was satanised and labelled evil and unlucky, in order to distance congregations from our celestial neighbour.
And if not, then what? If Sun and Moon have no hand in earthquakes, would it not be rather weird that whilst they affect the tides, they ignore the land under the tides? As both have no eyes nor brain, how do Sun and moon distinguish flexible land from more flexible sea and even more flexible air? Why decide to affect only one body of mass?
Talking of funding, a subterranean wall around and beneath Christchurch is being planned now, estimated to cost $200 million dollars. The 7.1 earthquake on the 4 Sept had a destructive force of 648 kilotons. The “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, exploded with an energy of about 15 kilotons of TNT. It means the big Christchurch earthquake was equivalent in destructive energy to 43 Hiroshima bombs. There was less damage to the Canterbury landscape than a nuclear explosion over Hiroshima because an earthquake is within the land, which absorbs much of its explosive force. But if 15 kilotons can destroy a whole city and most of its people, and a 7.1 earthquake has 43x that power, what would such a force do to a “protective” concrete wall? Solid steel reinforcement would surely fold like fuse wire and concrete reduced to fine gravel.
Archaeologists now claim Jericho's walls likely fell because of an earthquake. It is King Canutish to think Man can build a wall against Nature. Nature has dealt with ease to this country’s second biggest city 2216 times during less than 8 weeks. Whole hills and fields have changed shape, an unimaginably massive tonnage of earth and solid rock. The next time around, if there even is one, the galactic energies of the super demolition team of Moon & Sun will not meet their match and screech to a halt at a little nib wall around a city.
But from the governmental spending point of view, the wall makes sense. It would be an on-going gift to the city and still under construction during the next election, a visible symbol of generosity to the region. The region is already cash-strapped. But g
iving the $200 million dollars instead to deserving families who need new homes,
toilets and clean drinking water would disappear in an instant, with nothing to show. It would not buy future votes, not like a wall
The reality is we are powerless to stop any of this. The forces are immense. Just one medium-sized solar flare has about the same amount of energy that the whole human population uses within a year. If an earthquake is going to occur there is nothing in its way. Some comfort is that it would be most unlikely for a massive-size earthquake to revisit the same region so soon. Moreover, if earthquakes are going to start doing that, they might arguably revisit Napier, Wellington, Inangahua and Edgecumbe well before knocking on Darfield’s door.
In other words, Christchurch may be one of the safest places to live-in for a while, from here on.
Polticians, please forget this wall. If there is any money available, it should arguably go to the current victims. The earthquake may or may not return. A look at cycles, at Sun and Moon, can provide answers if sufficient funding is made avaliable, and new computer programmes developed that included analyses of the gravitational influences of significant extraterrestrial orbiting bodies. It may mean astronomers or astrologers are brought on board. Until then, investing in a wall instead is like a doctor sewing-in stitches in case there later happens to be an accident. Just because it could happen does not mean it will. The horse has bolted. Putting up a stronger stable door may be a waste of time, effort, resources, cash and manpower.
We need to know more.
Given the spending choice, I'm sure many would rather have some remaining heritage buildings saved. After the war and the wholesale bombing of Dresden by the Allied Forces, the surviving inhabitants rebuilt their entire town, brick by brick, referring to old photographs, drawings and paintings.
They loved their old city that much.