Static electricity may be key to predicting earthquakes
A rise in static electricity below the ground could be a reliable indicator that an earthquake is imminent, say scientists who are now launching an experiment to predict quakes well in time to save thousands of lives.
Tom Bleier, a satellite engineer with QuakeFinder, has spent millions of dollars putting specialist measuring equipment - magnetometers - along fault lines in California, Peru, Taiwan, and Greece, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
The instruments are sensitive enough to detect magnetic pulses from electrical discharges up to 16 kilometres away, which could give people enough time to get to safety before a quake strikes.
Scientists' theory is that, when an earthquake looms, activity below ground goes through a 'strange change', producing intense electrical currents.
"These currents are huge," Bleier said at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.
"They're on the order of 100,000 amperes for a magnitude 6 earthquake and a million amperes for a magnitude 7. It's almost like lightning, underground," Bleier added.
"In a typical day along the San Andreas fault, you might see ten pulses per day. The fault is always moving, grinding, snapping, and crackling," he told National Geographic News.
Before a large earthquake, that background level of static-electricity discharges should rise sharply, Bleier said.
He claims he has seen this prior to half dozen magnitude 5 and 6 earthquakes whose precursors he's been able to monitor.
"It goes up to maybe 150 or 200 pulses a day," he said.
The number of pulses, he added, seems to surge about two weeks before the earthquake then drop back to background level until shortly before the fault slips.
There are hitches to the project, though - magnetic pulses could be caused by a lot of other things, ranging from random events within the Earth to lightning, solar flares, and electrical interference from highway equipment.