George Mason Scientists Making Strides Toward Predicting Earthquakes

Posted: October 12, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

George Mason’s Center for Earth Observing and Space Research (CEOSR) team has just detected atmospheric anomalies that appeared on previous data for Oct. 1, 2005, one week prior to the 7.6 Pakistan earthquake of Oct. 8. This finding represents a significant step in moving from a retrospective analysis to a predictive capability, with the hope of one day allowing the team to actually predict earthquakes and save countless lives.

“Earthquakes are among the most dangerous natural hazards,” says Menas Kafatos, dean of the university’s School of Computational Sciences. “We have observed significant surface and atmospheric anomalies which could be due to impending earthquakes, especially coastal regions, where the interaction between land-sea-atmosphere is greatest.”

Using CQuake, an online earthquake signatures tool, CEOSR’s team detected anomalies that appeared on data for Oct. 1. The anomalies occurred along the continental boundary, the region where the Indian and Eurasian lithospheric plates collide. “The anomalies are not very large, but this is expected for this region due to the large distance from the ocean,” says Guido Cervone, research scientist at CEOSR and main developer of CQuake.

The earthquake process causes rock breakage and deformation at the epicentral area, which is responsible for surface changes and possible releases of gases prior to an earthquake event. “Studying existing satellite and model data provided by NASA and NOAA, originally intended for climatological studies, it is possible to detect such changes and study their spatial and temporal characteristics,” Cervone says.

CQuake can provide retrospective analysis of earthquakes in near-real time and also monitor selected regions of the Earth for impending events. “CQuake is an online research tool that cannot yet predict earthquakes,” emphasizes Cervone. “However, in selected cases, we have observed significant anomalies prior to specific earthquakes.”

Researchers at CEOSR screen the Earth’s surface and atmosphere daily using remote sensing satellite and model data to identify anomalies that might signify impending earthquakes. Such signatures have been present for numerous earthquakes, including Bam, Algeria, Gujarat, Greece and the powerful 9.3 megaquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra on Dec. 26, 2004, which caused the powerful tsunami, ensuing devastation and massive loss of life.

CEOSR scientists are closely collaborating with researchers from NASA, Japan, Greece, Mexico, France, Turkey and India to study different types of data to distinguish anomalies associated with earthquakes from those due to the Earth’s atmospheric phenomena, such as weather fronts. This study includes the analysis of data from DEMETER, Europe’s satellite for the study of earthquakes that has been in orbit for more than a year.

CQuake can be viewed on the web.

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