Magazine article Science News

Electrical Clues Precede Some Tremors

Magazine article Science News

Electrical Clues Precede Some Tremors

Article excerpt

Battling the skepticism of their colleagues, some geoscientists are investigating the controversial idea that faults release electromagnetic signals prior to generating large earthquakes. Researchers last week reported hints that such electrical bursts have preceded several recent quakes, raising the possibility that this phenomenon might finally be drawing serious attention.

Claims of electrical precursors of earthquakes are nothing new. But experts have found many past reports of such dubious quality that they have shied away from this research. In previous studies, workers typically failed to demonstrate that prequake electrical signals were not caused by subway trains, atmospheric phenomena, or myriad other sources of electrical noise in the environment.

Some Greek researchers in recent years have claimed success in predicting earthquakes by observing voltage changes in the ground. Although most seismologists within Greece and elsewhere have dismissed such findings, the reports stirred the interest of Seiya Uyeda, a seismologist who splits his time between Tokai University in Shimizu, Japan, and Texas A&M University in College Station. Uyeda convinced colleagues in Japan to set up an experimental observation network along the western coast of that country to test the Greek techniques.

At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last week, Uyeda reported that this network had indeed detected unusual changes in Earth's voltage in the weeks preceding four strong quakes that hit Japan between 1991 and 1993. Uyeda says his team must do more work to determine whether such electrical changes come from a human source. "We're not sure of anything. It may be something, or it may be nothing," he notes.

As a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences and an established scientist, Uyeda may succeed where others have failed in promoting research into electromagnetic changes associated with earthquakes. …

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