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Never Underestimate Humans as Earthquake Triggers

Never Underestimate Humans as Earthquake Triggers
Seismographs recording earthquakes on sheets of "measuring paper." The seismological devices for measuring earthquakes are machines with a needle drawing a red line on graph paper, measuring recordable seismic activity. (Belish/Dreamstime) 

David Nabhan By Thursday, 09 November 2017 04:21 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Nikola Tesla calculated that one ton of dynamite exploded repeatedly at the same locale every hour and 45 minutes would amplify the Earth’s natural standing wave, ending by sooner or later cracking the planet’s crust. Not much of what such a genius as Tesla postulated ever turned out wrong, so for those who wonder if the great savant might have misplaced a decimal point or two here, there is the striking evidence of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

That bridge was destroyed in just this manner in 1940 by the phenomenon of aero elastic flutter, in wind only blowing at 42 miles per hour but yet giving repeated nudges in precisely the right way to build to the breaking point, just as an opera singer can strike the right chord and shatter glass.

Tesla’s idea was that what could be achieved with glass or steel bridge girders could be accomplished with any material — including bedrock — and built an apparatus to prove it.

He tested his machine in New York in 1898. What happened next is legend, urban myth, or fact. The story goes that first his building, then others nearby, began to shake violently enough that police were summoned. The dénouement of the tale is a perfect fit too. The only way to turn the machine off was with — a sledgehammer.

Setting up those kinds of harmonics to achieve nasty seismic results today, more than a century later, using high-intensity electromagnetic means rather than what a tinkerer had at hand more than a century ago, might not be impossible after all. Human-induced earthquakes are still though logged under the most difficult to believe chapter of "weather war," a facet of combat however that is already thousands of years old.

Any military historian can give hundreds of examples of battles won and lost due in part to some clever commander’s use of the weather conditions. Shields and armor polished and battle lines arrayed to take advantage of the rising sun to blind or confuse an enemy, naval engagements offered or refused while waiting for advantageous tides, night assaults scheduled during the darkness of a new moon, and countless other stratagems have been used over the centuries.

The Battle of the Bulge, to give one of the best examples, was launched on the Allies when the German High Command had been assured by meteorologists that an extended period of "Hitler weather" was at hand (snow and overcast skies) so as to negate the overwhelming American and British air superiority. And, regarding the U.S. Air Force, in June of 1976 United Press International (UPI) printed a detailed account of how U.S. cloud-seeding operations over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the 1960s and 1970s muddied the enemy’s main transportation artery during the Vietnam War.

As far as tectonic weapons are concerned, the U.S. was scant months away from initiating Project Seal — a plan to detonate a string of 4.5 million pounds of high-explosives five miles off the coast of Japan to create a tsunami to wreak havoc on that country’s coastline prior to the massive American amphibious assault which would follow. This first artificial tsunami was cancelled only by the success of another top-secret project, this one labeled "Manhattan."

Human-induced seismicity is already quite factual nonetheless, and seen in many of our massive engineering endeavors — dams, mining, fracking, etc. One of the greatest natural disasters in Australian history, the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, many scientists have concluded was precipitated by human engineering expertise, specifically by coal mining activities near Boolaroo, a suburb of the city of Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia — the epicenter of the earthquake.

Actually, there is hardly a major dam ever constructed in any seismic zone whose inauguration wasn’t punctuated with seismic fireworks. The most striking evidence, however, comes from China. On May 8, 2008, 80,000 were killed in a horrific 7.9 earthquake that wracked Sichuan Province.

The Zipingpu Dam had just been completed, built only 500 meters from a section of the fault line which failed, and a little over 5 kilometers from the killer quake’s epicenter. Geophysicist Christian Klose and other scientists focused attention on such obvious connections in the esteemed journal Science in January, 2009.

Insofar as hydraulic fracking is concerned, Oklahoma dethroned California as America's shakiest state in 2014, logging three times the number of 3.0 quakes or greater than the Golden State.

Massive reservoirs, deep drilling, hydraulic fracturing — and perhaps man himself, purposefully — might well be able to trigger earthquakes. Coming to grips with those facts should cause fair-minded observers to wonder if the hackneyed "earthquake prediction is impossible" mantra still being repeated on the West Coast might seem laughable in the future to military leaders who may be able to call one up at the commander in chief's orders.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Massive reservoirs, deep drilling, hydraulic fracturing; perhaps man himself, purposefully, might be able to trigger earthquakes. Coming to grips with those facts should cause fair-minded observers to wonder if the earthquake prediction is impossible mantra might seem laughable in the future.
deep drilling, fracturing, fracking, reservoirs
Thursday, 09 November 2017 04:21 PM
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