Gansu earthquake: Scientists in China believe they received an ominous signal days ago

But researchers in China’s Shaanxi Province have developed a pioneering technique that has allowed them to successfully predict every earthquake of magnitude 7.0 or greater that has struck around the world in the past ten years.

But to their dismay, there is still no way to predict where these earthquakes will occur.


An earthquake struck northwest China, killing more than 110 people and injuring hundreds

An earthquake struck northwest China, killing more than 110 people and injuring hundreds

Researchers first realized the latest quake was on the way when they received a text alert about abnormal data readings from multiple sensors on Friday morning.

The team then started discussing where the earthquake might hit, and in the afternoon before it happened, Zhang Maoxing, a professor and dean of Xi’an Jiaotong University, was thinking: “We need to predict the location as soon as possible.”

At this point, the team had already calculated that there was a high probability that an earthquake would occur within three to five days of the abnormal data readings being recorded.

Zhang said they were also able to predict that the earthquake’s magnitude would be around 6.27 based on the strength of the observed data.

But they could not predict that the earthquake was about to occur in a county neighboring theirs. “[We] “I didn’t think it would be this close,” Chang said.

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Four days before the Gansu earthquake, the team recorded abnormal gravitational wave readings at four different sensor sites around Shaanxi.

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Liu Huaqiang, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi’an, said that although the sensors were located in different cities, the anomalous waves were all recorded at about the same time, which indicates that they were moving at the speed of light.

While other gravitational disturbances from other sources can cause abnormal data readings, seismic gravitational waves travel at the speed of light, “so it was not difficult to understand whether this was a precursor to the earthquake,” Liu said.

By studying nearly 500 earthquakes over the past two years, the team can now estimate the magnitude of the quake and the time frame in which the quake might occur, Zhang said.

But the final piece of the puzzle they need to solve now is where the earthquake will hit.

“The only aspect we can’t determine is the location,” Liu said.

One idea on how to solve this problem was to place sensors all over the world and use the difference in the time it takes for waves to hit different gravimeters to help determine location.

Zhang said that if the team is able to start locating earthquakes as soon as they see an abnormal reading of the data, they hope to share their findings for global use. But he cautioned that because these waves travel at the speed of light, the difference in timing is currently “too small” to make such a calculation.

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Liu said their approach now is to “look for patterns related to tectonic plates,” to identify unique signal waves that originate from specific locations.

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The Chinese Earthquake Early Warning Network was able to send text alerts within 30 seconds of the earthquake in the areas surrounding the epicenter of the Gansu earthquake. The people closest to it received a text alert just 12 seconds before they felt the effects of the quake.

These early warning systems provide alerts “when the earthquake actually starts,” Liu said. Those who live farther from the epicenter – and therefore less likely to be affected – are given the most time to prepare.

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