Satellites can find early warning signs of earthquakes weeks before they happen.

Satellites can help detect early warning signs weeks before earthquakes

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After the terrible quake in Turkey and Syria in February 2023, a scholar found some interesting possible warning signs that showed up days or even weeks earlier. If these trends continue, it could mean that earthquake tracking and warning systems will be able to work a lot faster this time around.

Around the time of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, Dr. Mehdi Akhoondzadeh from the University of Tehran chose to look into data from satellites. Among the projects he looked at were those from China’s Zhangheng 1, NASA’s Aqua and Aura, and the European Space Agency’s three Swarm satellites. A lot of interesting things were found when earthquake records from the US Geological Survey (USGS) were compared to them.

Akhoondzadeh’s study in the Journal of Applied Geodesy says that the most interesting sign began underground about three weeks before the big one. Between 19 and 12 days ago, instruments on Aqua saw a rise in temperature in the lithosphere, which is the top solid shell of our planet and includes the crust and part of the upper mantle.

But that was only the start. Within a few days, strange readings on water vapor, methane, ozone, carbon monoxide, and flying particles called “aerosol optical depth” began to show up. These were caused by changes in the atmosphere. These signs in the sky stayed for about five days.

The zone of charged particles high above the air we breathe called the ionosphere, was the last to join the party. Some changes in the ionosphere were seen five days ahead of time, but the really clear signs, like changes in electron density and temperature, weren’t seen until just 24 hours before.

The change from the lithosphere to the atmosphere and then to the ionosphere is a big hint, according to Akhoondzadeh. It seems that all of these strange events are caused by things that were going on deep inside the Earth’s surface long before the final split. He suggests the idea of “lithosphere-atmosphere-ionosphere coupling,” or LAIC, as a general process that might show early signs of earthquakes.

“The findings of this study highlight that prominent anomalies in the earthquake precursors in a time gap of about 15 days before the earthquake, first in the lithosphere and then in the upper layers, i.e. in the air and ionosphere, respectively are observed,” it says.

But keep in mind that this is still just a guess based on one earthquake. To find out if LAIC works as a good precursor system, the experts will have to look at data from a lot more events in a lot of different places.

It could be a whole new ballgame for how we can detect earthquakes early on if the LAIC idea is right. That extra time could save lives in places that are right on top of active faults.

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