India seeks to forecast quakes from space

India seeks to forecast quakes from space

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Research based on anecdotal reports that the earth’s crust emits characteristic electromagnetic (EM) radiation a few hours before an earthquake. This radiation, it is said, perturbs the upper part of the Earth’s atmosphere by causing, for example, a sudden drop in electron density.

The Indo-French project aims to use satellite and ground-based instruments to study fluctuations in the ionosphere — the Earth’s upper atmosphere — before, during and after earthquakes in the seismically active ‘Himalayan arc’ region. Researchers will then use these data to try to develop a model for forecasting earthquakes.

Although a great deal is known about where earthquakes are likely to occur, there is currently no reliable way to predict when an event will occur in any specific location.

If the study confirms that EM radiation can be used to predict earthquakes (a theory that remains highly contested in the scientific community), the study could have significant implications for seismically active countries such as India, which saw severe devastation and 15,000 deaths in last year’s earthquake in the state of Gujarat.

The New Delhi based Indo-French Center for Promotion of Scientific Research — a body set up by the governments of both countries 15 years ago — has approved the three-year Rs.7 million (US$144,000) project, according to P.G.S. Mony, director of the Center.

The project would use a French micro-satellite known as DEMETER — which stands for Detection of Electromagnetic Emissions Transmitted from Earthquake Regions — to “search for the ionospheric precursors of earthquakes over high seismic regions across the entire globe,” says Michel Parrot of the French scientific agency CNRS in Orleans, who is leading the French side of the project.

DEMETER will measure electromagnetic waves of frequency up to 4 MHz, and plasma parameters such as the local electron density and temperature at the altitude of the satellite.