By Andrew J. Ireland
WASHINGTON – For decades, scientists have sought a method to predict earthquakes and save thousands of lives, without success.
Mainstream scientists still believe there is no reliable method of prediction, but David Nabhan, author of “Earthquake Prediction: Answers in Plain Slight,” thinks he’s on to something.
He’s now confident enough in his work to urge government leaders to take action and prepare for major tremors during certain periods of time.
He even has identified specific dates this summer on which significant quakes are likely to occur.
“I’m calling for this matter to be placed on the governor’s desk,” he said, referring to California Gov. Jerry Brown.
So far, Nabhan says, his conclusions have fallen on deaf ears, which he sees as a travesty for public safety.
Much of his work centers on “higher probability windows for seismicity,” which simply means the periods of time when earthquakes are most likely to occur.
He examined the records of earthquakes within a radius of 70 miles of Los Angeles’ city center from 1933 to 1994 that were powerful enough to kill and noticed every one occurred within a three-hour window at dusk or dawn. Further, about two-thirds took place within 36 hours of the instant of a full or new moon.
He concluded lunar and solar cycles working in tandem, through their gravitational pull, could have a part in triggering earthquakes.
He reasons that if such a force can create the tides of the ocean, it can surely impact seismic activity.
Nabhan taught in South Central Los Angeles for 19 years and was the former Los Angeles Unified School District Earthquake Preparedness Coordinator for his school site for 15 of those years. He now lives in Pittsburgh.
No longer ‘balderdash’?
Giving some credence to Nabhan’s theories, Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Society told CBS Los Angeles “there’s a very slight correlation” between lunar and solar cycles and seismic activity.
“Ten years ago, that’s not what she was saying,” Nabhan said. “She was saying that there’s no correlation at all. Ten years before that, she was saying balderdash.”
Now, after having his work published in the San Diego Journal of History, one of the West Coast’s oldest and most reputable scholarly journals, Nabhan says, “The cat is out of the bag regarding tides.”
He believes gravitational pull has an effect worldwide on seismic activity but sees far more than a subtle correlation in Southern California. Nabhan hypothesizes that “due to some quirks in geography on the West Coast,” the region is more susceptible to the impact of lunar and solar activity. So much so, he believes earthquakes are predictable, an idea dismissed by the USGS.
“All of the earthquakes that have struck in Southern California and have killed people show signs of having been triggered by lunar and solar gravitational tides to a degree which makes it pretty apparent,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Geologic Survey released a map Thursday that increases the earthquake risk for about half of the United States and lowers it for about one-quarter of the nation. Parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee moved into the top two hazard zones, the Associated Press reported.
Dates to test his theory
Nabhan said that based on his theories, this summer provides three “excellent examples” of probable days for seismic activity in Southern California – July 12, Aug. 10 and Sept. 9.
A significant quake did occur July 12, halfway across the globe in Japan, and another the following day in Chile.
The Japan Meteorological Agency estimated the quake to be 6.8-magnitude. The U.S. Geological Survey scored it a little weaker, 6.5, downgrading its earlier estimate.
According to the USGS, the quake was centered off Honshu Island, about 80 miles east-southeast of Namie and 175 miles east-northeast of Tokyo. It was seven miles deep.
Nabhan believes the August and September dates coming up “would be even more apt” for activity, especially in Southern California.
“It’s good summer to make a public exploration of this deal,” he said.
Recognizing the impact of such a prediction on public preparedness and safety, Nabhan is “calling for this matter to be placed on the governor’s desk.”
“There is an advisory bureau that would be the perfect panels of experts to decide yes or no whether this is matter holds any water,” he said, referring to the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council.
He said Gov. Brown should call on the council for its opinion.
U.S. lagging behind
Nabhan admits he cannot, at this point, precisely predict quakes but only determine days and periods of higher probability. That said, he believes a precise prediction is fully possible, including time, magnitude and place.
Nabhan has highlighted the lack of an early warning system in California. He said that although the region is now bringing a P-Wave warning system online, it is years behind places such as Bucharest, Istanbul, Tokyo, Taipei and Mexico City.
P-Wave systems provide warning to citizens seconds before a quake occurs, giving them enough time to take cover and brace themselves.
Nabhan says “this is one indication where foot dragging and nay-saying have held us back.”
Blaming the USGS for much of the problem, he said the agency has “castigated the press” to promote a message of “self-fulfilling nonsense.”
“Think back, when have you ever heard of a science discipline where they what they intended to do was impossible? What kind of airline system would we have if avionics has started off back in 1903 saying flying is impossible?” he asked.
“Mexico beat us to that punch, so did Turkey, so did Taipei,” he said. “Pretty shocking isn’t it?”
The great quakes on the U.S. West Coast north of Southern California fit the historic pattern described by Nabhan.
The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 struck at 5:12 a.m., while the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 struck almost precisely 12 hours later, at 5:04 p.m.
Anchorage was devastated on Good Friday, 1964, at 5:36 p.m., 47 minutes from the exact moment when the moon became full.
The last major quake on the Southern San Andreas fault, in 1857, hit Fort Tejon in the early morning.
The May 2, 1996, magnitude 5.4 Seattle earthquake, the largest to that point in that city’s history since 1965, struck about nine minutes outside the time and date forecast in Nabhan’s first book.
Nabhan says to watch for activity between 4:45 and 7:55, a.m. or p.m., on Aug. 10 and Sept. 9.
“It’s called the scientific method,” Nabhan said. “And this summer people will be able to see for themselves how much water this holds.”