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Earthquake Precursors: Signs of a Coming Tremor?

2023-04-06  |   Editor : houguangbing  

Generally speaking, earthquakes occur in clusters, rather than just a single tremor. The mainshock is, by definition, the largest earthquake in a series – and as such it may be the first (followed by a series of aftershocks) the last (preceded by a series of foreshocks) or somewhere in between.

Geological Precursors to Earthquakes Using detailed instrumentation, it’s possible to identify and measure minute changes in the immediate area of a fault which may occur before an earthquake. These changes are many and varied, including emission of radon gas, alterations in the local magnetic field, emission of radio waves, changes in levels of groundwater and observed changes on the ground.

As with foreshocks, the problem here is twofold. In a summary of the literature on the subject Cicerone et al remark that “while each of these phenomena has been observed prior to certain earthquakes, such observations have been serendipitous in nature.” In other words, sometimes the signs will occur and sometimes they won't.

In one of the best known prediction experiments, at Parkfield in California, when an earthquake eventually occurred, researchers observed none of the precursors – despite extensive scientific scrutiny of the area.

Animal Behaviour as an Earthquake Precursor

There’s certainly evidence that animals can tell whether an earthquake is imminent: the United States Geological Survey puts such evidence as far back as 353 BC when animals reportedly disappeared ‘several days’ before an earthquake struck in Greece. And John McPhee, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study of American geology, refers to the behaviour of wildlife immediately before a major earthquake struck Montana in 1959.

“Birds of every sort had made a wholesale departure from mountain. It would be noted by others that bears had taken off as well, while bears that remained walked preoccupied in circles.” No-one knows where the bears went.

There is an explanation for this: that animals are more sensitive to earthquake waves than humans and might feel the first tremors sooner. But that’s a matter of seconds, not days or even hours: so there’s plenty of uncertainty here too.

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