Saturday, March 19

The sciences of heaven and earth, the 'still small voice in the night,' and earthquake prediction

March 25 Update
It seems the Natural News article (see below) gave the wrong date for the window of opportunity that Jim Berkland named for a major earthquake to strike California. According to an article I saw today that quotes Berkland, the window is from March 19 to 26, not March 25th. See my post today for details.
March 19, 2011: Supermoon rises over Cascade Mountain Range. Photo taken from Seattle, Washington by Joshua Trujillo for

After giving much of my time in 2010 to reporting on natural events I'd pretty much stopped such coverage early this year. However, I'm going to make an exception regarding the March 19, 2011 supermoon:

A supermoon is so named because the moon's orbit occasionally takes it closer than normal to the earth at the time of perigee; i.e., moon's shortest distance from the earth during the lunar cycle. See this article at National Geographic Daily News page for a crash course on the March 19 supermoon, which came closest to the earth in 18 years, and for an explanation about why it could look pretty much the same to the naked eye as a normal full moon (notwithstanding the awe-inspiring moment that Trujillo captured).

The author of the Geographic piece also takes a swat at claims that supermoons can precipitate earthquakes and tsunamis. Yet it was an ordinarily good-natured astronomer named Phil Plait who pulverized the claims in a March 11 post at Discovery magazine. That wasn't the first time Plait had explained why the idea of a supermoon-earthquake connection was nonsense, but he was so exasperated by a (U.K.) Daily Mail scare piece on the connection between the moon and Japan's earthquake that he put on the hobnail boots. The result is one of those articles that are worth saving and passing on to your grandchildren.

However comma debunking the supermoon connection will not dissuade humanity from its quest to seek signs and portents that warn of an earthquake. One seeker is Jim Berkland, a retired geologist who claims to have developed a set of indicators that can predict major earthquakes. Other scientists have disputed Berkland's methods and the success rate he attributes to his method. Yet this hasn't dampened the general public's interest in his approach to earthquake prediction, perhaps because it feels intuitively correct: not by any one sign but by a particular convergence of these might a warning of the earth's upheaval reveal itself.

Intuitive reasoning, as mathematicians delight in demonstrating, can be spectacularly wrong. Yet there is a difference between perking an ear for intuition's whispers and the intuitive reasoning that keeps casinos raking in profits. And when one considers that 30 seconds is the most warning that even cutting-edge technology can provide for a tsunami that strikes land nearest an earthquake, it's not a fool's quest to sound every nook and cranny of intuition and to scan heaven and earth for signs and portents. Jim Berkland has taken just such an approach in formulating his latest prediction, which is that between March 19 and March 25 a major earthquake will strike California.

From the Australian Natural News article about the prediction:
He says that four factors are coming together that make an earthquake in California a likely event:

First, the moon will be full and at its closest point to the earth during that time, a factor associated with previous earthquakes.

Second, the spring equinox occurs during this time, producing some of the highest tides of the year.

Third, the recent massive and unexplained fish die-off in Southern California could signal a magnetic shift that affects animals with unusual behavior. For example, beached whales have preceded previous earthquakes in California.

And fourth, the Pacific Rim faults, known as the Ring of Fire, have experienced three recent quakes -- in Chile, New Zealand, and Japan. These earthquakes have proceeded in a clockwise direction, possibly indicating that the fault lines in California are next.

Berkland has a website at and a [print] newsletter through his site. [...]
With regard to the name of Berkland's website, I might have noted before on this blog that astronomical syzygy as an earthquake predictor has been roundly criticized by other scientists. And I think that with little effort one can find on the internet people who have gone to some trouble to critique every one of the signs that Berkland uses in earthquake prediction; e.g., not every instance of mass deaths of marine life can be tagged to an earthquake. But again, Berkland's method doesn't depend exclusively on syzygy or any one event. We'll learn, soon enough, if in this particular instance he's hit on a gestalt worth a closer look from his critics.

And I note that the American Pacific Northwest (and southern British Columbia in Canada) are also situated along the Ring of Fire, so if the quake occurs as predicted it wouldn't necessarily strike in California.

In any event, a major earthquake in California could immediately unleash a tsunami against the coastlines of Washington and Oregon states as well as California's. And conceivably a major quake could effect the Cascade Volcanic Arc, a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and Cascade Mountains that includes over 160 active volcanoes.

As we saw with Japan, which not only has cutting-edge tsunami warning devices but also a system unmatched elsewhere for instantly communicating the warning to the general populace, much can be accomplished with a warning of only 30 seconds. It's enough time to halt trains and factory machinery, allow drivers to make U-turns and the spryest to sprint for highest ground. But when one considers that the super-tsunami that struck Japan roared inland as far as an astounding six miles, I'd say this isn't the time to take only a purely academic interest in whether Berkland's prediction pans out.

Of course one cannot live on pins and needles all the time. But then it's only once in a long while that the kind of convergence Berkland talks about occurs. So between now and the end of this month (I'd tack a few days onto Berkland's prediction to be on the safe side) I'd say this is the time for Americans and Canadians living along the Ring of Fire to pay special attention to the behavior of their pets and neighborhood wildlife and to focus more inward, on the "still small voice" than on the passing show. And, of course, to review emergency disaster preparations.

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