The earth is composed of four layers; the inner core, outer core, mantle, and the crust. The surface of the earth is made up of plates lying together like a puzzle. These plates, AKA the tectonic plates, are always moving. They slide and bump over each other. There is a rise in energy, which when released causes an earthquake, shaking the earth’s surface and everything above it. The earthquake is measured by a Richter scale, but several other methods have been developed by scientists to measure the intensity of an earthquake. A serious jolt took place two days back in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a reported value of 8.1 on the Richter scale, causing serious damage. Ten years back in October 2005, thousands of people died and whole colonies vanished in northern areas of Pakistan, with people left stranded and homeless.

Owing to the huge amount of losses caused by earthquakes over the years, scientists have been working on to find ways and means for prediction of an earthquake, but they have not yet come to a conclusive method to do so. But let’s see how chemistry can help predict a monstrous earthquake in advance. Hopefully this might be the start of predicting earthquakes.

Several reports have been published about the composition of groundwater before and after an earthquake. The anomalous behavior of groundwater may help as an indicator or alarm for an earthquake. In a study carried out in Japan, published in “Science”, July 1995, six months after a disastrous earthquake hit the country, showed a fluctuation in the chloride (Cl-1) and sulphate (SO4-2) concentration in groundwater. The study went on for two years (1993-1995) showing a continuous rise in the concentration of these ions, before the earthquake took place. This continuous rise in chloride and sulphate concentrations may be taken as an indicator for starting the precautionary measures before the earthquake actually jolts the area.

Another important indicator is the concentration of Radon (element) in the groundwater. Studies before the same 1995 Japan earthquake, showed an increase in the radon levels. The study was initiated in October 1994 and by the end of December, the concentration had risen fourfold, reaching the peak just 9 days before the disaster, before falling down. Igarashi and his coworkers concluded that this radon concentration change may be a precursor of a huge earthquake. The correlation of Radon concentration with the onset of an earthquake had earlier been reported by Hauksson in 1981, based on the data collected from different regions of the world. A more recent study (2014) about the earthquakes in Iceland has shown the same Radon and other chemical trends, as reported earlier.

So next time you see a chemical spike in water, stay alert, something is going to happen sooner or later.

The government authorities should not turn a deaf ear to the scientists and establish research centers dedicated for this purpose. This may help save many a precious lives, cattle, and property.

Currently, they call it the four “R”s: Rescue, Relief, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction. Better add two “P”s (Prediction and Preparation) before the “R”s and you will definitely save a lot of time and money spent on four “R”s, and more importantly, SAVE LIVES.

image credit: pwrdf.org