Despite the horrendous loss of life following the Tohoku earthquake and consequent tsunami, the losses would have been even greater were it not for an earthquake early warning system set in place by the government of Japan following the devastating Kobe quake in the mid 1990’s.
A similar early warning system has been underway for nearly ten years in California, but remains incomplete.
Following a meeting on Tuesday of top seismologists at UC Berkeley, the mission to complete the system — and then expand it to cover the entire U.S. West coast — has taken on new urgency. The scientists estimate that it will take another 80 million USD (over the next five years) to complete California’s system.
Hopefully, a new push for completion of this system would prompt Oregon and Washington States to get working on the system expansion.
According to an article in the Seattle Times, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Doug Given said he hoped it wouldn’t take a “killer quake” to prompt quick action on completing such a system.
The early warning system works by detecting what are known as primary waves which are weaker than secondary waves but which also travel through the Earth’s crust faster. The faster propagation of these waves enables early detection of more devastating secondary waves that lag behind them.
Over the years, different theories and concepts of early earthquake detection have been put forth, including one system being developed/installed by QuakeFinder (a private, humanitarian, R&D org owned by Stellar Solutions, with support from NASA) that is based upon detection of electromagnetic disturbances (“precursors”) believed to precede strong earthquakes. These precursor events are actually detected far above the Earth in the ionosphere.
This latter system, however, is still somewhat controversial and remains to be completely validated. However, if validated, perhaps a combination of the two systems might provide both the confirmation and maximum time warning needed to prevent massive loss of life.
Top image: (Global earthquake epicenters, 1963–1998) NASA, DTAM project team
Second image: (fault types) earthquake.usgs.gov