>"Quakefinder"- A Private/Educational/Government Partnership to Investigate

>the Feasibility of Using ELF Sensors for Earthquake Forecasting



>Every year, earthquakes claim thousands of lives and cause billions of

>dollars damage. Researchers from the US (Stanford, Berkeley), China,

>Russia, and Japan have reported a significant rise in extremely low

>frequency (ELF) magnetic fields days prior to a few large earthquakes.

>The challenge is having a sensor, or network of sensors, near the

>earthquake in order to detect it.


>Stellar Solutions, an aerospace engineering firm in Palo Alto, started

>the "Quakefinder Project" to build and deploy a network of 50 ELF

>sensors in northern California as a multi-high school science project.


>Tom Bleier is a satellite systems engineer at Stellar Solutions and the

>technical lead for the Quakefinder Project. Tom and his colleagues are

>attempting to get private and government funding to build a satellite-based

>ELF sensor system to monitor earthquakes worldwide, and to detect and

>characterize 40-60 large earthquakes each year.


The meeting began with a brief presentation by Dennis Paul, to the effect that this meeting marked the 20th anniversary of the first TASC meeting. He passed around the first flier, which showed that most of the first few meetings were organized around the implications of the stresses of being an engineer on the cutting edge of technology, which had been a painful issue at the time.

Tom Bleier began his presentation by showing some data that the Navy had collected with their experimental ELF (Extra Low Frequency) antennas during the Loma Preita earthquake. Clearly visible on the chart was an increase of ELF radiation of several orders of magnitude about two weeks before the quake. Then the noise reached a peak during the quake. It was at least another couple of weeks afterward that the vibration level fell to the normal background level.

Tom found out that the Colorado School of Mines had done some testing on normal granite rocks, and they had established that when you stress them to the point where they are ready to break, they start to emit electro magnetic signals just before cracking. There are several theories for why this is, ranging from the electrons in the layers of rock emitting energy as their chemical bonds are broken to some sort of peizo electric effect that is not thoroughly understood. Tom felt that the emissions measured by the Navy were the result of 20 or 30 cubic miles of rock breaking up as the earth got ready to move.

The only kind of natural disaster that we have not yet got good forecasting tools for is earthquakes. However, in order to have reliable predictions, we need to have enough data sets to see if there are repeating patterns. Tom designed an instrument that can be built from off the shelf parts for under $1000 at low volumes, and he has been working with high school science teachers to have their students build and install them in their own back yards for extra credit. At this point, after two years work, they have deployed about thirty of them. They would like to have instruments every twenty miles along all of California's major faults, so they can capture every earthquake as it occurs, reducing the amount of calendar time until we have enough valid data sets to see if this idea works.

So far, they have been monitoring their stations for about a year, and none has measured a significant earthquake. The USGS estimates that there is a 67% chance that we will experience one in the next generation, but that is not soon enough for Tom Bleier to be sure he will be around to measure it. Statistically, there is one magnitude 6 earthquake every week somewhere on earth, one magnitude 7 every month, and one magnitude 8 every year. It turns out that if there was a way to monitor for them from a satellite, then we could get much more data much sooner.

Bleier showed us two data sets that have been collected that indicate satellites can do this work. One of them was collected by the Russians, and one by the French. He has a mock up picture of the satellite he wants to send up, which he estimates will cost about $3.5 million to build and another $1 million to launch.

To date, the ground stations have been paid for by Tom Bleier (2), some Corporate money (10), and the State of California (40). California wants to see some good data before they put more money into the project, and we are waiting for an earthquake to provide that. Funding for a satellite will have to come from some foundation, and Bleier has feelers out looking for that.

Tian Harter

For more info: www.earthquaketracker.com