Some time ago one of this country's leading popular science journals Znanye-Sila (Knowledge is Strength) published an article headlined "Zemlya Dybom" (literally-Earth Stands on End). It is based on an earlier publication (of September 2003) which described two tragically devastating earthquakes which hit the Gorny Altai Region earlier this year. The quakes were of strength 8.3 and 8 points on the Richter scale and the toll included large plots of land sinking into cave-ins, collapsing rocks and ruined residential areas. Woe and behold! - the scale of the disaster was really unprecedented.
The journal also printed a long, although far from complete, list of such tragedies: Russian chronicles of 1230 described a quake that "hit the principalities of Rostov, Suzdal and Vladimir right during the mid-day mass", the toll of the 1737 quake in Calcutta, India, reached 300 thous.; the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, took 70 thous. lives; in 1783 - 100 thous. people died in Calabria, Italy; a strong tremor that hit Moscow in 1802 was described by Nikolai Karamzin, Member of the St. Petersburg Academy; in 1906 a quake in the area of St. Francisco, USA, affected an area of about one mln. km2 ; in 1908 - 110 thous. people perished in quakes in Messina and Calabria in Italy; in 1920 - 180 thous. people lost their lives in the Province of Gansu in China; in 1923 the death - toll in the Sagami Bay and Tokyo in Japan reached 145 thous.; the 1939 quake in Erzinjan, Turkey, killed 35 thous.; in 1948 - 100 thous. people died in a quake in Ashkhabad, USSR; the 1970 quake in Peru took 66 thous. lives; in 1976, 240 thous. people (by other reports - 650 thous.) died in the city of Tangshan, China; the Spitak tragedy of 1988 in Soviet Armenia took 25 thous. lives; in 1990,40 to 50 thous. people perished in Western Iran; in 2001, more than 20 thous. perished in Bhuja, India...
How often do earthquakes occur in one and the same region? According to world statistics: the average interval in the Pacific belt is 150 years, 200 - 300 years in the Mediterranean-Asian region and 500 - 700 years on the platform planes. And the average annual toll across the world amounts to thousands of killed and injured. And one can only dream of some miraculous "early warning" of an impending doom. Neither journalists, nor academicians-seismologists, to say nothing of the "powers- that-be", have real access to the "magic stick". The authors of the aforesaid publication had to admit that: "Early warning systems already exist in Mexico, Tokyo and some other cities. But they go into action when a quake is already in progress..."
And, naturally enough, there have been some exceptions to the general rule. An article in the same journal published in late 2003 said: "In Spitak some of the residents were able to escape from their homes as soon as they felt the weak initial tremor and before the main strike. Seconds later it would have been too late already. According to eyewitness accounts, during tremors of strength 7.5 points people were thrown down to the grounds before they become aware of what was going on." And it was only on one occasion in history that a tragedy of this kind was avoided and that was in China. In 1974 Chairman Mao Zedong announced an early warning to hundreds and thousands of his compatriots. He did so after some local experts predicted a serious danger in the Liaoning province within the next couple of years. After that more than 100 thous. volunteers started submitting reports on any and all signs of danger. In the early days of February 1975 the residents of Haicheng saw snakes escaping from their habitual winter holes and there were rapid changes in the level of ground waters. On February 4 the local authorities declared a state of emergency and during the whole of that day local residents with their cattle and possessions were being moved to safety. The quake of strength 7.5 points struck at 19 h 35 min and the town was reduced to rubble, but the number of victims did not exceed several hundreds. But say what you may, the lesson was lost even on the Chinese. One can only recall the above list of such disasters. In 1976, only one year after Haicheng, there came the shock of the Tangshan tragedy.
There is no denying the fact, however, that the efforts of geologists, seismologists and other researchers, including those in the Soviet Union and later in Russia, did help improve the international situation with earthquake prognostication. More sensitive instruments have been developed for keeping track of the processes deep within the lithosphere of the Earth*. And efforts were taken to broaden the networks of measurements in the most tremor-prone regions of different continents**. Other experts have been drafting more informative sets of maps for predicting the likely shifts of geological platforms on the territories of different countries and even on the subcontinents of Asia, Europe, South and North America***. Others still were collecting and assessing the available historical facts and records as well as related legends****. Others still focused on the anomalous behavior of birds, wild animals, mice and sealife which, unlike people, are always on their guard*****.
And now a new and unexpected approach to earthquake prediction
* See: G. Sobolev, "Earthquake: From Lab to Source", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2003. - Ed.
** See: V. Muraviev, G. Krasnopevtseva, "Prognostication of Strong Earthquakes", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2000. - Ed .
*** See: V. Ulomov, "Seismic Menace in Russia", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2001. - Ed .
**** See: A. Nikonov, "Earthquakes in Rus", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2000. - Ed .
*****See: I. Ananyev, "Strong Quakes and Biological Anomalies", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2000. - Ed .
has been suggested. A NASA expert, Prof. F. Freund (USA) has described chemical reactions occurring in deformed rock shortly before a catastrophe. The Znanye- Sila article says they occur when temperature and/or pressure rise within the bowels of the Earth with the propagation of a seismic wave. Negatively charged oxygen ions are generated and the electrical properties of rock are changed from those of isolators to semiconductors. Then crystals move towards the surface of the Earth even from depths of 10 - 20 km. In this way static electricity is accumulated on the surface of a seismic-prone zone measuring thousands of square kilometers. And then strange things begin to happen there.
All of these things manifested themselves even before, before the statement of Prof. F. Freund. Experts from the Stanford University (USA) observed: shortly before the 1989 events electromagnetic emissions were registered in the bowels of California. And similar signals were registered before the Kobe quake of 1995, when powerful electrical currents occurred within the continent. In January of 2001, a week before the tremor in the Indian state of Gujarat, the temperature of the soil surface increased by 2 - 4°C. The heat was apparently generated in chemical reactions with the participation of oxygen ions. Finally, Taiwan scientist Dr. Jian-Yang Liu stated that out of the 150 quakes of 5.5 points strength registered by him in nearly 130 cases there were ionospheric disturbances at up to 100 km. And the positively charged strata "bulged up" over the zone of a coming quake and a unipolar electric charges accumulated at the lower levels of the atmosphere.
And now-back to Prof. Freund. In his laboratory experiments he crushed under press slabs of granite, examining them in the infrared band. Before their collapse he saw bright glares which looked very much like those in a subterranean cataclysm during which one can observe some glow emanating from hills and mountains...
And the aforesaid journal observer is right in speaking about "other natural phenomena presaging the awakening of Seismos. There are changes in the chemical composition and level of ground water. Radon gas escapes from under the ground. And all of these phenomena should be constantly in check." Summing it up, one can say in conclusion that, sooner or later, specialists will be able to say with confidence where and when the earth will "stand on end".
A. Volkov, "Zemlya Dybom " (Earth Stands on End).
ZNANYE-SILA (Knowledge is Strength) Journal, November 2003
Prepared by Vladimir GOLDMAN
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