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A Thought…

When the politicians complain that TV turns their proceedings into a circus, it should be made plain that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.

   — Edward R. Murrow

Crowd-sourced earthquake predictions

Posted on 2017-Mar-01 at 12:33:49 by Phil

After a major earthquake, news reports are full of claims that it could have been predicted, if the authorities had just listened to people reporting odd behavior of animals, or other signs of impending doom. Well, there are two major problems with taking these accounts seriously enough to issue a formal warning.

First, there’s a bias toward recalling certain signs or portents after the earthquake, that you would normally have just ignored. For example, “my horse refused to enter the barn last night, before the quake.” That horse might well have sensed something was amiss, detecting infrasonic noises, gas emissions from the ground, microquakes, or disturbances in the local magnetic or electrical fields that humans pay no attention to. The trouble is, that same horse may have refused to enter the barn many times before (unrelated to any impending earthquake), and you simply forgot about those instances. But when that refusal coincides with a major event (quake), all of a sudden it becomes a foolproof predictor. It isn’t.

Secondly, there is no consistent manner in which such data is collected and analyzed before a major earthquake. It tends to be anecdotal, and usually recalled after-the-fact. Whether it’s odd animal behavior, changes in well water (levels, turbidity, dissolved gases, etc.), “earthquake lights” (possibly burning released gases, or plasma similar to ball lightning), or anything else out of the ordinary; it needs to be collected consistently and constantly, to see if it can be correlated to a seismic event occurring some time later.

What if state or federal governments opened some sort of online “report hotline” of unusual events as they happen (before a quake)? It would not be used (until satisfactorily proven) to actually issue a warning to the general public, but could be used to scientifically study these signs and see if and how they correlate to seismic events. There would be a tremendous amount of noise to weed through, to get to any useful signal, but hey, isn’t that something that computers are good at? One horse refusing to enter a barn is nothing, but 90% of all horses in an area suddenly acting that way would be of interest. Of course, there will be jackasses who via social media persuade many people to file false reports, in an attempt to have a little fun with society, but since public warnings will not be issued for some time (if ever), this could be weeded out by monitoring social media for such attempts.

Eventually, if a good correlation can be found between pre-quake portents and the timing and size of a following earthquake, public warnings might be issued. This would increase the need for monitoring of social media to catch efforts to falsely indicate an event. At some point, public safety and utility personnel might be alerted, but this can’t go on indefinitely — the public will want to know why they weren’t alerted! Even better, if some good, consistent, repeatable correlation can be found, that would be a good target for scientific investigation so that instrumentation could be developed to detect whatever the signal is, bypassing the need for public crowd-sourced data collection.

Posted on 2019-Jul-07 at 22:56:51 by Phil

“Soft” signals and portents, especially animal behavior, may just be too noisy to try to extract a reliable, repeatable signal from. Transient phenomena such as “earthquake lights” may also be too unreliable and subject to the observer’s emotional state. What might be useful is hard data from things that animals might be reacting to: infrasonic to ultrasonic noises, microquakes, changes in above-ground electrical fields, changes in the magnetic field, gas emissions, and even water turbidity. Add to this changing well levels, rock electrical conductivity, and similar measurable items, and there may be something there to analyze. Unfortunately, collecting such data would require long term monitoring by fixed instruments to collect and analyze massive amounts of data, something not conducive to crowd-sourcing as discussed before.

By the way, earthquakes tend to be highly individualistic. What seems to be a sure warning signal for one section of one fault, often can’t be applied to other faults, or even to other sections of the same fault. However, if a good repeatable signal (pattern) can be found for that one area, at least short term quake predictions might still be possible for a limited area.

Posted on 2020-Jul-03 at 12:57:16 by Phil

An article on looking at the collective behavior of animals, and trying to correlate it to observed earthquakes. This is the sort of rigorous approach needed to make use of animals for predicting earthquakes. Even better, find out what signals the animals are responding to, and build sensors for them.


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