April 7, 2009

Experts Deny Scientist’s Earthquake Prediction Claim

Shortly after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy Monday morning, Giampaolo Giuliani reported that he had previously forecasted the quake but was ignored by officials and blamed for stirring up public anxiety.

Giuliani, an Italian scientist at the National Institute of Astrophysics, had warned local residents to flee the region due to evidence of the upcoming catastrophe he claimed to have gathered by studying an increase in emissions of radon gas near the seismic area.

He was reported to the police for "spreading alarm" and officials forced him to remove his warnings from the Internet.

But seismologists remain skeptical of Giuliani's approach to "predicting" earthquakes.

Remy Bossu, a researcher at the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) told AFP that the technique of using radon to predict earthquakes has been used since the 1970s.

"So far, nothing has been proven," he said.

"You have to know exactly what you are measuring. Radon emissions depend on many factors. For instance, if atmospheric pressure falls, it's easier for radon to escape from the earth's crust. It's very difficult to make a coherent comparison of emission levels."

Brian Baptie, a seismologist with British Geological Survey (BGS) in Edinburgh, said: "No scientist, as far as I am aware, anywhere around the world, has been able to predict an earthquake, in terms of saying exactly, when, where and how big it will be."

"We know where earthquakes occur in certain parts of the world, we know for instance that earthquakes occur down the spine of Italy, in the San Andreas fault," he told AFP.

"But saying when and crucially how big they will be is beyond us at the moment. Prediction at the moment is just not possible."

Monday's massive quake impacted 26 towns and villages, at least 207 people are reported dead, 1,500 are believed injured and an estimated 50,000 people are without homes.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi told the AP that rescue attempts would continue for two more days "“ "until it is certain that there is no one else alive."

Since Monday morning's massive quake, a series of aftershocks have hit the region, causing the number of homeless and injured to rise.

"There are lots of people who are looking at radon levels in the world, and so far they have not been able to establish a correlation" with earthquake occurrence, Yann Kinger, of the Institute for the Physics of the Globe in Paris (IPGP), told AFP.

"Something must have happened in the Earth's crust for the radon concentrations to have changed," he said. "But was it pure coincidence that the earthquake happened just afterwards, or was there a connection?"

Italy's Civil Protection agency held a meeting of the Major Risks Committee, grouping scientists charged with assessing such risks, in L'Aquila on March 31 to reassure the townspeople, according to Reuters.

"The tremors being felt by the population are part of a typical sequence ... (which is) absolutely normal in a seismic area like the one around L'Aquila," the civil protection agency said in a statement on the night of the meeting.

"It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake," it said, adding that the agency saw no reason for alarm but was nonetheless affecting "continuous monitoring and attention".

"Every time there is an earthquake there are people who claim to have predicted it," said the head of the National Geophysics Institute.

"As far as I know nobody predicted this earthquake with precision. It is not possible to predict earthquakes."


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