Thursday night, a powerful earthquake rattled the southern coast of Mexico, resulting in the deaths of 32 people, and causing further concern with tsunami warnings for the Pacific coast.
The 8.1 magnitude earthquake has been called “the biggest quake in 100 years” by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. Its force is believed to exceed that of an earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985.
According to the Washington Post, “Mexican authorities said at least 32 people were confirmed dead, including many in the state of Oaxaca along the Pacific coast. In some towns, such as Juchitlan in Oaxaca, there were reports of people trapped under rubble.”
With the damage and loss of life that incurs with events such as this, the perennial question does often emerge: what can be done to improve our ability to predict earthquakes of significant magnitude before they happen?
Earthquake prediction is in many ways an imperfect science. Apart from known indicators of future seismic disturbance, there are also a number of seemingly "anomalous" natural phenomenon, ranging from geophysical phenomenon like earthquake lights, to the possibility that solar activity may be connected to earthquakes in some way.
On that note, a very interesting thread appeared a number of weeks ago on Reddit, by user Parasol, under the title, "The ultimate earthquake test is about to commence 8.0-9.0 magnitude range."
According to the post:
"The largest solar flare of the current solar cycle 24 was just observed around region 2673. The massive event measuring X9.3 peaked at 12:02 UTC Wednesday. A Type II radio emission with an estimated velocity of 1969 km/s was recorded. A bright coronal mass ejection (CME) is visible in the latest STEREO Ahead imagery and will likely be directed our way. More to follow once Earth facing LASCO coronagraph imagery becomes available. Aurora sky watchers may be in for a treat later this week."
The post goes on to read, "The projection is for a 8.0-9.5 magnitude quake. I've included all processed data showing the correlation between b's breaches and seismic events known to date. Most years showing a consistent relationship." In other words, the prediction was that around September 9th, an 8.0 or higher earthquake would likely occur, which is precisely what happened off the southern coast of Mexico. The entire thread can be read here.
Similarly, there were reports of a rare geophysical phenomenon known as "earthquake lights" coinciding with the Mexican earthquake, as reported here at MU by my colleague Brett Tingley, as well as other media outlets. In the past I've covered this phenomenon in articles such as, "Illuminated Omens: Rare “Earthquake Lights” May Explain Some Paranormal Phenomena," and more recently, "This Unusual “Pink Sky” May Appear Before Some Earthquakes, Studies Suggest."
Another situation that sometimes occurs in conjunction with earthquakes is animal disturbances, where various species are seemingly able to anticipate geophysical disturbances in advance of an actual seismic event. While there are no reports (yet) directly correlating such phenomenon with the Mexican earthquake, the USGS does have a page about this, titled, "Animals & Earthquake Prediction - USGS Earthquake Hazards Program."
Though often considered a subject of pseudoscience by some modern skeptics, such animal disturbances are interpreted very differently by the USGS:
"We can easily explain the cause of unusual animal behavior seconds before humans feel an earthquake. Very few humans notice the smaller P wave that travels the fastest from the earthquake source and arrives before the larger S wave. But many animals with more keen senses are able to feel the P wave seconds before the S wave arrives."
Granted, the USGS data does not account for alleged predictions occurring days or weeks before a seismic event. "As for sensing an impending earthquake days or weeks before it occurs, that's a different story," the USGS website says.
A final unusual connection to all of this--and one that truly does enter the realm of "woo woo", at least until science reaches a point where such phenomena may be explained--involves psychic predictions. At present, such claims are indeed difficult to quantify, but there are nonetheless reports of such things. Take, for instance, the following dream that a colleague of mine had, which occurred on the evening Wednesday, September 8th (which had actually been the early morning of September 9th):
“It felt European, a lot of cement buildings, stucco, not like here in America... it actually put me in a funk all day long. And then, somehow I either had cash, found cash, and then we tried to figure out how to stash it, because everyone was hoarding and looting… it was just apocalyptic. And I remember trying to hide the cash, because I didn’t have any place to put it. And I had a kid that wasn’t mine, but I was also looking for my daughters. And every time I have a traumatic dream, my dogs always pop up. I wonder if there’s a calming connection I have with them. When I have stressful dreams, they always pop up, as if to help me. It was definitely stressful, strong anxiety. Just a stressful earthquake dream.”
The descriptions of a foreign place, and the specific mention of stucco, at least bears some similarity to locales like Mexico City. Such claims of psychic predictions, while certainly interesting in relation to earthquake prediction, are nonetheless very difficult to qualify or prove, at least in any correlative way in relation to earthquake events.
Could there indeed be varieties of natural phenomena (such as those listed here) which would be useful in predicting earthquakes, in the event that modern science could come to a practical understanding of their cause? With some hope, maybe emerging studies in these, and related fields, will help improve the scientific ways earthquakes might be predicted in the future.