Dr. Friedmann Freund is one of America’s unsung heroes. Not that he hasn’t achieved great and public success — principal investigator at NASA, lead scientist at SETI Institute, and professor of geophysics at San Jose State University. Aside from those quite impressive accomplishments, however, there is one more that causes them all to pale into relative insignificance. Dr. Freund has spent $1.5 million of his own personal funds in order to nudge NASA in the direction of the system of satellites he is proposing that he posits may be able to do the impossible — predict earthquakes.
Unless one is well-versed with the arcane chemistry and physics taking place deep beneath seismic zones — connecting a rather complex series of interactions involving electron holes, peroxy bonds, hydrogen peroxide, and ozone — the layman’s vision of how Dr. Freund’s satellites would work would be by detecting the faint infrared signature above fault lines ready to rupture.
For those wondering why such a task should be heaped on one man’s shoulders — though he is a titan — Dr. Freund explained it to me for a section in my book (see below) in quite simple terms. "Geology journals weren’t interested because it was semi-conductor physics, and physics journals weren’t interested because it was geology." Such is the double-edged sword that slices through many worthwhile attempts at seismic forecasting.
There is extreme specialization within the sciences and mathematics so as to make interdisciplinary communication difficult, buttressed with the career-threatening opprobrium attached to anything that may point toward earthquake prediction. The casualty of all this is an important one: any potential seismic early warning system.
Dr. Freund isn’t alone in imagining a space-based platform for seismic forecasting — hardly. As a matter of fact, there are many of the greatest scientists in the world who are of the opinion that we’ve already been receiving those signals in orbit for decades, and only that we’ve simply been ignoring them. One of those scientists is Dr. Cristiano Fidani, professor at the University of Perugia in Italy, physics laureate at the Andrea Bina Seismic Observatory. He is one of many world-class experts who are casting attention on "high energy particle bursts" in the upper atmosphere.
The first satellites to discover these disturbances linked to seismic activity were those of NOAA, in March of 1964. The Russian Salyut 7 orbital station conducted experiments in the 1980’s which also confirmed the connection between disturbances in the ionosphere and earthquakes building below.
The most recent and convincing evidence, however, comes from the DEMETER (Detection of Electro-Magnetic Emissions Transmitted from Earthquake Regions) satellite, placed into orbit by the French in June, 2004. It was on duty on Feb. 27, 2010 when the magnitude 8.8 blockbuster detonated just off the coast of Chile.
DEMETER recorded the energetic charged particle bursts over the epicenter of the seismic activity starting 11 days before the quake in the energy ranges 6 times the average value.
To be clear, it isn’t as if a stream of sub-atomic particles are shooting from the bowels of the Earth prior to great earthquakes, but something else almost certainly is: ULF waves (ultra long frequency). The use of the term "ultra" is not hyperbole; it’s hard to imagine light stretched out to such extremes. ULF waves range between 3 kilohertz (wavelengths that measure 100 kilometers from crest to crest) all the way to radically super-extenuated waves a thousand kilometers in length in the 300 hertz band, light waves that measure the distance between New York and Chicago from crest to crest.
These ULF waves impinge on charged ions in the rarified regions of the high atmosphere and it is this secondary reaction that gives rise to the bursts. The energetic particles aren’t created below ground, only the mechanism. As to how and why seismic zones produce cascades of ULF waves and all the nuts and bolts of the possible physics that takes place from deep below the surface to the extreme heights of the Van Allen Belt, Dr. Fidani says "there are many aspects to consider and nothing is certain."
What is certain, however, is the record of the earthquakes that follow which were preceded by sharp disturbances in the ionosphere and that were tracked back to their source on Earth. The list is one worthy of note, to say the very least (with death tolls): Alaska, 1964 (131); Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, 2004 (280,000); Haiti, 2010 (316,000); Chile, 2010 (550).
This might be a salient lesson for those pointing down at the Earth and declaring with such assurance that earthquake prediction is impossible, since it may turn out that they were looking in the wrong direction after all, looking down, instead of — up.
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 www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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