Articles | Volume 10, issue 9
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 10, 1965–1975, 2010
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 10, 1965–1975, 2010

  24 Sep 2010

24 Sep 2010

Correlation of pre-earthquake electromagnetic signals with laboratory and field rock experiments

T. Bleier1, C. Dunson1, C. Alvarez1, F. Freund2, and R. Dahlgren3 T. Bleier et al.
  • 1Quakefinder, Palo Alto, Ca, USA
  • 2NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Ca, USA
  • 3Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, San José State University, San José, Ca, USA

Abstract. Analysis of the 2007 M5.4 Alum Rock earthquake near San José California showed that magnetic pulsations were present in large numbers and with significant amplitudes during the 2 week period leading up the event. These pulsations were 1–30 s in duration, had unusual polarities (many with only positive or only negative polarities versus both polarities), and were different than other pulsations observed over 2 years of data in that the pulse sequence was sustained over a 2 week period prior to the quake, and then disappeared shortly after the quake. A search for the underlying physics process that might explain these pulses was was undertaken, and one theory (Freund, 2002) demonstrated that charge carriers were released when various types of rocks were stressed in a laboratory environment. It was also significant that the observed charge carrier generation was transient, and resulted in pulsating current patterns. In an attempt to determine if this phenomenon occurred outside of the laboratory environment, the authors scaled up the physics experiment from a relatively small rock sample in a dry laboratory setting, to a large 7 metric tonne boulder comprised of Yosemite granite. This boulder was located in a natural, humid (above ground) setting at Bass Lake, Ca. The boulder was instrumented with two Zonge Engineering, Model ANT4 induction type magnetometers, two Trifield Air Ion Counters, a surface charge detector, a geophone, a Bruker Model EM27 Fourier Transform Infra Red (FTIR) spectrometer with Sterling cycle cooler, and various temperature sensors. The boulder was stressed over about 8 h using expanding concrete (Bustartm), until it fractured into three major pieces. The recorded data showed surface charge build up, magnetic pulsations, impulsive air conductivity changes, and acoustical cues starting about 5 h before the boulder actually broke. These magnetic and air conductivity pulse signatures resembled both the laboratory rock stressing results and the 30 October 2007 M5.4 Alum Rock earthquake field data.

The second part of this paper examined other California earthquakes, prior to the Alum Rock earthquake, to see if magnetic pulsations were also present prior to those events. A search for field examples of medium earthquakes was performed to identify earthquakes where functioning magnetometers were present within 20 km, the expected detection range of the magnetometers. Two earthquakes identified in the search included the 12 August 1998 M5.1 San Juan Bautista (Hollister Ca.) earthquake and the 28 September 2004 M6.0 Parkfield Ca. earthquake. Both of these data sets were recorded using EMI Corp. Model BF4 induction magnetometers, installed in equipment owned and operated by UC Berkeley. Unfortunately, no air conductivity or IR data were available for these earthquake examples. This new analysis of old data used the raw time series data (40 samples per s), and examined the data for short duration pulsations that exceeded the normal background noise levels at each site, similar to the technique used at Alum Rock. Analysis of Hollister magnetometer, positioned 2 km from the epicenter, showed a significant increase in magnetic pulsations above quiescient threshold levels several weeks prior, and especially 2 days prior to the quake. The pattern of positive and negative pulsations observed at Hollister, were similar, but not identical to Alum Rock in that the pattern of pulsations were interspersed with Pc 1 pulsation trains, and did not start 2 weeks prior to the quake, but rather 2 days prior. The Parkfield data (magnetometer positioned 19 km from the epicenter) showed much smaller pre-earthquake pulsations, but the area had significantly higher conductivity (which attenuates the signals). More interesting was the fact that significant pulsations occurred between the aftershock sequences of quakes as the crustal stress patterns were migrating.

Comparing laboratory, field experiments with a boulder, and earthquake events, striking similarities were noted in magnetic pulsations and air conductivity changes, as well as IR signals (where instrumented). More earthquake samples, taken with the appropriate detectors and within 10–15 km proximity to large (>M5) earthquakes, are still needed to provide more evidence to understand the variability between earthquakes and various electromagnetic signals detected prior to large earthquakes.