The scientists hope the finding will lead to the development of a monitoring system that catches stress changes that could forecast big earthquakes.
The University of Tokyo scientists found that when stress exerted on the earth’s crust was high, the levels of a helium isotope, helium-4, released in the groundwater was also high at sites near the epicenter of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, a 7.3 Magnitude earthquake in southwestern Japan in April of 2016 that caused 50 deaths.
The team used a submersible pump in deep wells to obtain groundwater samples at depths of 280 to 1,300 meters from seven locations in the fault zones surrounding the epicenter 11 days after the earthquake in April 2016. They compared the helium-4 levels derived from chemical analyses of these samples with those of identical analyses performed in 2010.
“After careful analysis and calculations, we concluded that the levels of helium-4 had increased in samples that were collected near the epicenter due to the gas released by the rock fractures,” says the study’s lead author Sano Yuji (surname first), a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere Ocean Research Institute.
The researchers also estimated the amount of helium released by the rocks from the change of helium content in groundwater based on certain assumptions. They also calculated the amount of strain change at the sites for groundwater sample collection using satellite data. Combined, the researchers found a positive correlation between helium amounts in groundwater and the strain change, in which helium content was higher in areas near the epicenter, while concentrations fell further away from the most intense seismic activity.
More studies should be conducted to verify our correlation in other earthquake areas,” says Sano. “It is important to make on-site observations in studying earthquakes and other natural phenomena, as this approach provided us with invaluable insight in investigating the Kumamoto earthquake.”
The scientific paper was produced by: Sano Yuji, Takahata Naoto, Kagoshima Takanori, Shibata Tomo, Onoue Tetsuji and Dapeng Zhao, "Groundwater helium anomaly reflects strain change during the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake in Southwest Japan", Scientific Reports Online Edition: 2016/11/29.
So… the hope is that one day… when you start hearing your friends talk like Alvin. Simon & Theodore (Alvin & The Chipmunks) and there aren’t any party balloons in the general vicinity, you should be aware that there’s a big earthquake imminent. Kidding, of course.
But could you imagine thousands of people running around the streets of Tokyo screaming in a high-pitched helium voice as the clue that the big one is coming? What an awful way to go, Alvin.
Still, at least this research by the University of Tokyo team seems to be onto something… I think the trick, however is that they need to have a base sample of the amount of helium present at a particular area.. then that area has to be hit by an earthquake… and then they can test helium levels afterwards…
BUT... where do you seek out places to establish baseline groundwater helium levels?
I suppose one could predict that areas along a fault line are more likely to be hit by earthquakes and could test helium levels in the groundwater there… but it still seems a bit hit or miss as a means to establishing a true earthquake prediction solution.
I think, however, that the helium effect could be used as a PART of an earthquake predictor along with other measurable factors.
Scientists are still trying to prove conclusively that earthquakes are caused by volcanic eruptions—or that volcanic eruptions are caused by earthquakes or that there is no correlation between the two. My bet is on one of the first two seismic options.
As stupid as it sounds, catfish have been thought of as earthquake indicators. Because catfish respond enthusiastically to changes in electric fields that can (not always) occur before an earthquake, scientist have been observing them… watching ponds to see hyperactive catfish activity of thrashing about s though they were in a mosh pit at a Pantera concert back in the 1980s.
Dogs, cats and birds are also better attuned to upcoming earthquake activity… but that might only provide seconds of per-earthquake knowledge. Maybe the ears simply sense vibrations before the human… but do they do so before a seismograph feels the earthquake? I don’t know.
Apparently chickens stop laying eggs before an earthquake… I’m unsure if that involves butt clenching or crossing of drumsticks…
Usually before any BIG earthquake, there are a few small tremors (which could be as dangerous)… so there’s that predictor… then again… when Toronto had a minor rumble 10 years ago (it felt like a heavy truck driving by outside)… there was no pre-indicating tremor - unless that was the tremor… and even then, there was no big earthquake to follow… unless that’s all it was… sometimes, Dr. Freud, a cigar is just a cigar.
There’s also something called earthquake lights… an emission of strange lights from the ground that occur days to seconds ahead o a big earthquake…& some say this is the cause of massive numbers of UFO sightings… but not every earthquake sees an emission of these weird lights - short blue flames or forks of light coming up from the ground… hey, I want to believe.
Somewhere my rooster isn’t laying any eggs,