Skeptics Give Their Assessment of New Earthquake-Predicting Technology

Predicting earthquakes is impossible according to seismologists with the U.S. Geological Survey, but if you listen to Tom Bleier, being able to forecast deadly earthquakes could someday soon be a reality. Bleier is the inventor and chief engineer of QuakeFinder, a project that looks into changes in electromagnetic fields as an indicator of imminent earthquakes.

A satellite engineer who has 37 years developing ground-control systems and satellites for private companies and the U.S. Defense Department, Bleier has dedicated the past 10 years to the QuakeFinder Project, according to www.nytimes.com. Bleier believes that he will be able to forecast quakes stronger than magnitude “5” on the Richter Scale two weeks before they happen by using data from sensors being assembled across California. By further analyzing the electromagnetic patterns, Bleier believes he can pinpoint the time of the quake to within two days.

Bleier sites evidence from previous QuakeFinder success stories to validate his techniques. The devices detected electromagnetic pulses — which oddly resembled lightning strikes — a full two weeks before an earthquake hit Alum Rock, located outside San Jose in Northern California. This was also true of a quake in Peru last year.

Claiming that the electromagnetic pulses are created when rocks are squeezed together, producing electrical currents, other experts who follow QuakeFinder’s principles say that the movement of water underground might also cause electromagnetic anomalies. However, skeptics of the project say that quake-related studies of the changes in electromagnetic field are a scientific dead end. They further state that the electrical signals resembling lightning were most likely created by lightning, or even one of the other many sources of electricity in the air, and not earth movements as claimed by Bleier.

Michael Blanpied, an earthquake hazards program coordinator at the USGS, stated that supporters of electromagnetic-based theories, including those at QuakeFinder, were more often than not naïve about the work seismologists have done to date, which demonstrates that it is virtually impossible to predict quakes within a narrow time frame.

Operating as a humanitarian research and development division of Stellar Solutions in Palo Alto, California, QuakeFinder has received investments of more than $10 million from Stellar Solutions over the past 10 years. The QuakeFinder Project is now seeking donations to complete the project.

The project operates through 70 five-foot tall sensors installed near fault lines — 200 sensors will eventually be installed. These sensors, costing $50,000 each, detect electrically charged particles in the air. It is these changes that Bleier believes predict quakes. Nine of Stellar Solutions employees currently work on the project, installing the devices, refining the technology, and analyzing the data.

For more information about the QuakeFinder research, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/us/14bcquakefinder.html?_r=1