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Earthquake Forecasting Can Become Reality

There is one physical process that is capable of giving us useful information for an impending earthquake, this results from stress-activation of electronic charge carriers deep within the Earth’s crust.  Though the build-up of pre-earthquake (pre-EQ) stresses occurs kilometers deep near the focal point of an oncoming earthquake, the consequences can be detected at the Earth’s surface in multiple ways, in the groundwater, at the ground surface and in the atmosphere above the affected area.  These pre-EQ signals allow us to recognize an impending earthquake anywhere from days to weeks in advance.

Introducing to the nature of charges carriers and where these pre-EQ signals originate. All rocks have properties operating at the atomic level. Forf example all rocks in Earth s crust contain what is referred to as peroxy defects. Peroxy defects are pairs of oxygen anions gthat have changed their valence from the usual 2- to the usual 1-. Because peroxy defects are inconspicious and difficultto detect, they have historically been overlooked by the scientific community. However when rocks are subjected to increasing stress prior to an earthquake, these peroxy defects become activated and release electronic charge carriers known as positive holes. Positive holes are electronic charge carriers similar to ‘defect electrons’ in transistors and everyday electronics, but in rocks they are associated with a single O– in a matrix of O2–. Once these positive holes are generated in the Earth’s crust due to pre-earthquake stress increase, they tend to rapidly migrate through the overlying rock. They migrate through the Earth’s crustal rock in a manner that resembles the flow of electrons through a semiconductor. They can move at speeds up to 200 meters per second and can travel long distances – tens to possibly hundreds of kilometers.  Once the positive holes arrive at the Earth’s surface, they produce multiple physical responses that are detectable.  These signals are indicators of the heightened risk for an earthquake. These signals are non-seismic, that is, they are not based on sound waves or motion due to the fracturing of rock but on the nature of the rock matrix experiencing increasing pressure. These signals may be fleeting and irregular, but there are many different kinds of signals. If we know where to look and how to recognize them, they can provide clear indicators of stresses building up deep within the Earth, days and even weeks before a major earthquake.

Without going into specific details of how different pre-EQ signals are generated, suffice to say, all these signals are linked to the upward migration of positive hole charge carriers from regions of high stress through the Earth’s crust to the surface. The signals they produce at the surface of the Earth and above, all the way to the ionosphere are useful pre-EQ signals. They are listed here from large scale to regional to local scale.

1. Ionosphere anomalies are detectable typically 3-5 days before major earthquakes. The anomalies in the ionosphere consist of increases in the Total Electron Concentration (TEC) at the lower edge of the ionosphere, best measured at night when the effects of the solar radiation on the ionosphere are less. These anomalies are measurable by at least three techniques (i) using existing GPS technology to reconstruct tomographic images of the ionosphere over seismically active regions; (ii) using “over-the-horizon” FM radio wave transmission to detect changes in the morning or evening terminator times; and (iii) using long-distance AM radio waves reflected off the ionosphere over the seismically active region.

2. Thermal Infrared (TIR) anomalies consist of increases to (i) the radiative temperature of the ground and (ii) the radiative temperature at the top of the clouds, also known as Long Wavelength Infrared anomalies. TIR anomalies mark the impending earthquake’s epicentral region and become detectable typically 3-5 days before major earthquakes. They can be detected by various satellite-borne infrared cameras or hyperspectral infrared imagers.  Medium resolution detection is currently possible using MODIS data on the NASA satellites TERRA and AQUA. These can provide one data point during the day and one during the night per each 24-hour period. Detection is even possible using low resolution geostationary weather satellite data by determining the slope of night time cooling curves from IR images every 15 30 min.

3. Anomalous CO release from the ground is currently retrievable from the MOPPIT sensor on board the NASA TERRA satellite providing daily global data.

4. Increase in positive and negative air ion concentrations using networks of ground stations to measure air ionization, typically 100-200 km apart.

5. Changes in the total magnetic field intensity, x, y, z-components to be measured by ground stations typically less than 100 km apart.

6. Emission of ultralow frequency (ULF) electromagnetic (EM) waves from the ground. Both of these unipolar pulses typically last 100 msec to 1-2 sec. Continuous ULF wave trains last minutes to hours, and their x, y, z-components can be measured by ground stations preferentially about 50 km apart.

7. Regional changes in radio frequency noise at different frequencies from very low to medium low (VLF-LF).

8. Soil resistivity changes can be detected 1-2 m deep as measured by 4 point ground electrode systems, typically less than 100 km apart.

9. Radon emanation from the ground by stations, typically less than 100 km apart.

10. Changes in water chemistry at commercial natural spring water bottling companies or from ground water wells, typically less than 100 km apart.

11. Noticeable changes to the circadian rhythm studies being carried out 24/7 at universities, hospitals and zoos, using well-kept laboratory animals.

12. Hospital records with emphasis on increasing numbers of Emergency Room calls related to central nervous system disorders.

The GeoCosmo Earthquake Forecast System will monitor these precursory signals to develop combined probability maps of the likelihood of impending major earthquakes.

The following list describes the cascading effects (not necessarily complete) of how the positive holes generate observable signals.

1. All igneous and high-grade metamorphic rocks contain electrically inactive, dormant peroxy defects in the matrix of their constituent minerals.

2. When rocks are stressed, peroxy defects become activated, generating electrons and defect electrons, the latter known as positive holes.

3. Positive holes flow out of the stressed rock volume, spreading along stress gradients into and through the surrounding less stressed or unstressed rocks.

4. Positive holes propagate at initial speeds on the order of 100 m/s over distances of kilometres to tens of kilometres, probably even more.

5. As positive holes flow, they form an electric current generating a magnetic field.

6. If positive hole currents fluctuate, they generate electromagnetic (EM) waves, in particular in the ultralow frequency (ULF) range.

7. ULF waves may occur in the form of single bursts, so-called unipolar pulses, or of wave trains that can last a few minutes to hours, sometimes days or even weeks.

8. When positive holes arrive at the ground-water interface, they oxidize H2O to H2O2, affecting groundwater chemistry.

9. When positive holes travel through the soil on their way to the surface, they oxidize organic matter generating CO and aid in the release of radon.

10. The positive holes also affect the electric field distribution across the ground-air interface, which can be assessed by tree potentials and ground potential sensors.

11. When positive holes arrive at the Earth’s surface, they will seek out topographic highs and accumulate at the ground-air interface.

12. At the ground-air interface positive holes recombine to return to the peroxy state.

13. Because the recombination is exothermal, excess energy is radiated off as IR photons, a process causally linked to the Thermal Infrared (TIR) anomalies.

14. When more positive holes arrive at the ground-air interface, electric (E) fields at the surface begin to field-ionize air molecules, producing positive airborne ions.

15. Positive airborne ions have a pronounced physiological effect and are implicated in pre-earthquake changes in animal behavior.

16. The air bubble laden with positive airborne ions, rises to stratospheric heights.

17. The rise of positive air ions polarizes the ionospheric plasma, causing electrons to be pulled downward, causing Total Electron Content (TEC) anomalies.

18. The positive air ions continue to rise through the mesosphere, organizing into columnar cells, which arrive at the ionosphere at vertical speeds of 20-30 m/s.

19. The cells of the rising ions causes a "bumpiness" of the E-field as recorded by satellites from above and by Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio scatter from below.

20. Meanwhile, at the ground-air interface, increasing number densities of positive holes arriving from below can cause corona discharges, leading to broad-band radio noise and the formation of ozone (measurable via current satellite data).

Many of these pre-earthquake signals are subtle, fleeting, and often difficult to identify against the background of natural and man-made noise. The best way to overcome this difficulty is to collect many different pre-earthquake indicators and evaluate them together using advanced data analysis techniques pioneered by Dr. Freund and his colleagues on the GeoCosmo research team.

It is this unique approach of correlating and co-evaluating many pre-earthquake signals that sets the GeoCosmo Earthquake Forecast System apart from others efforts aimed at assessing earthquake risks.


When positive hole charge carriers flow from rock into water, they stoichiometrically oxidize H2O to hydrogen peroxide, H2O2 [Balk et al., 2009]. In the process rocks “electrocorrode”, i.e. dissolve faster than they would other if in contact with water without influx of positive holes. The accelerated electro-corrosion releases cations such as Ca2+, Mg2+, K+ and Na+ as well as anions such as Cl–and SO4 [Grant et al., 2011; Inan et al., 2012.

It is possible, in principle, to monitor the hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, content in ground and well waters. However, H2O2 is unstable and easily decomposes into H2O plus ½ O2. By contrast the release of cations and anions entering the ground or well water are easily detected [Grant et al., 2011; Inan et al., 2012]. In fact, papers in the literature report on chemical changes of ground or well water, specifically increases in “mineral” content over the course of weeks prior to major earthquakes. These changes have been detected at distances up to 100 km and more from the epicentres of even moderate size earthquakes [Claesson et al., 2004; Pérez et al., 2008], underlining the observation that pre-earthquake stresses tend to be widely distributed and that groundwater systems respond to changing hydrodynamic conditions [Balderer, 1993.


Measurement of the increase in positive and negative air ion concentrations using networks of ground stations to measure ionization. Automatic monitoring can be done with a pair of sensors, one for + and one for – ions. The data will be affected by tidal forces and by passing thunderstorms, requiring multiple stations to eliminate environmental noise. The field-ionization of air molecules at the ground-to-air interface, driven by the accumulation of stress-activated positive hole charge carriers from below has been theoretically predicted [King and Freund, 1984], confirmed in the lab [Freund et al., 2009] and validated through field data from over 100 field stations [Bleier et al., 2009.


Changes in the total magnetic field intensity, x, y, z-components can be measured by ground stations. Cases have been reported where, prior to large earthquakes, the local or regional magnetic field increased or decreased relative to the field predicted by the higher orders of the reference magnetic field. These slow variations of the magnetic field measured at the Earth’s surface may be due to stress-activated electric currents deep below. In one case, the magnetic field over the northern part of Taiwan deviated over the course of 3 years from the field predicted by the Geomagnetic Reference Field http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/IAGA/vmod/igrf.html], followed by large magnetic field fluctuation lasting >50 days, which culminated in the Sep 21, 1999 magnitude 7.6 Chi-Chi earthquake [Freund and Pilorz, 2012].


ULF unipolar pulses consist of single pulses that typically last 100-200 msec up to 10-20 sec (with post-pulse reverberations). Unipolar pulses seem to occur in seismically active regions at rates of a few per day, increasing in number as an earthquake approaches. These pulses can be triangulated [Bleier et al., 2009; Dunson and T. E. Bleier 2011).


Measurement of the regional changes in radio frequency noise at different frequencies from very low to medium low (VLF-LF). Transmission perturbations obtained from crisscrossing ray paths between distant pairs of VLF transmitter and receiver stations provide triangulation of the location of a coming earthquake.


Positive hole charge carriers change the electrical conductivity of the soil – a fact used in China for decades to collect information about impending earthquake activity [Chu et al., 1996; Lu et al., 2004; Qian and BiRu Zhao, 2009]. However, because positive holes were unknown, the observed changes in soil conductivity were interpreted as due to the arrival of some poorly defined HRT (Harmonic Resonant Tidal) waves [AN Zhang-Hui et al., 2011]. The important point to note is that positive holes, as they arrive at the Earth’s surface, will not only change the conductivity of the soil but also set up voltages between the surface and subsurface, i.e. ground potentials.

These potentials can be detected using custom built sensors or using natural “antennae” that can provide information about the vertical electric potential profile. Tree potentials between metal contact in the tree crown and a steel electrode hammered into the ground within the reach of the roots have been used for some time to record dc potentials [Saito et al., 2005]. Mature trees act as robust and sensitive antennae, producing potential differences on the order of 100 mV between two vertical points on the tree trunk separated by about 1 m [Fraser-Smith, 1978]. These voltage signals can be accessed between two stainless steel nails that penetrate deep enough beneath the bark to be in electrical contact with the cambium, the layer of living tissue between the bark and the wood. The tree potentials carry not only information about the quasi-dc vertical E field, but also information about the E field component of ULF waves, which is complementary to the B field component.



















Dr Friedemann Freund

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