Earthquake warning theory draws criticism

June 7, 2008 1:14:36 AM PDT
Two scientists at NASA Ames in Mountain View, are working on an earthquake warning system to tell you weeks in advance when one may strike.

NASA scientists, Mino and Friedmann Freund, have a theory that rocks, energy, and space can together create an earthquake warning system.

"Each time an earthquake of magnitude five and higher, there was an anomaly in the ionosphere. This instilled very confidently that this phenomenon is reliable," said Friedmann Freund, a NASA Ames senior scientist.

The father and son team tracked 100 earthquakes over six months. They say before each one, rocks below the surface, shifted and felt stress. When that happened, they produced energy. That energy changed the ionosphere, above ground, and showed up in satellite images taken from space.

The May 12th quake in China is what brought Freund's theory to the forefront. The scientists say they saw changes to the ionosphere two months before the quake hit.

"If you had evacuated all these people before hand, told them not to go into buildings, these people would still be alive," said Mino Freund, NASA Director Of Advanced Aerospace Materials And Devices.

"It gets a little bit hard to believe," said Malcolm Johnston from the United State Geological Survey.

The Freunds' theory faces its share of criticism. At the USGS in Menlo Park, Johnston says studies show rocks simply can't emit enough energy to travel long distances.

"If we don't see anything at the surface right above the rupture, it's difficult to argue there's going to be a signal up in the ionosphere," said Johnson.

He also questions whether rocks can even show signs of stress, weeks before an earthquake.

"They don't really understand the physics," said Mino Freund.

"I am a physicist!" said Malcolm.

One thing everyone can agree on is the need for an earthquake warning system. The Freunds hope to have theirs available for the world, in five to ten years.


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