This fascinating debate has been ongoing in the geology community for several decades. Using satellite imagery, retired Chemist Zhonghao Shou has found that certain cloud formations can foretell upcoming earthquakes with remarkable accuracy. Between 1994 and 2001 alone, his notifications to the United State Geological Survey (USGS) were accurate 60% of the time. It’s not just any type of cloud formation that sends out this atmospheric warning signal, but one that is uniquely formed as a result of intense geological pressure beneath the Earth’s surface.
By now, you might be wondering how does pressure below the surface of the planet create clouds? Mr. Shou’s theory is (as summarized by this blog author):
Intense heat created by the movement of solid rock converts groundwater into vapors. These hot vapors filter up to the surface through the fault lines and fissures associated with earthquake-prone zones. Once they rise into the atmosphere, they condense with colder air aloft to form clouds. These clouds have a unique signature tail that Mr. Shou uses to pinpoint where an earthquake is likely to take place.
Generally, Mr. Shou notes that the foreshadowed earthquake will take place within a certain number of days after the appearance of the clouds (up to 50 days in advance). That being said, his December 25, 2003, prediction of a major earthquake in southern Iran based on a cloud formation he observed starting on December 20th, occurred just one (1) day later in Bam, Iran on December 26th. Sadly, this 6.6 magnitude earthquake killed more than 26,000 people.
Sequence of satellite images before the Dec. 26, 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran showing the unique vapor cloud formation on Dec. 20-21, 2003 – Source: semantic scholar.org
Despite Mr. Shou’s lengthy and ongoing efforts to convince the scientific community of the validity of his findings, a number of folks in the earthquake and geological sciences field remain skeptical. This is despite him receiving a United States patent (#8068985B1) for his work in earthquake predicting as well as his research/findings being published by the United Nations in 2004. My questions is:
Regardless of your opinion on this topic, it would seem that Zhonghao Shou’s research and findings should continue to be explored more fully. History is littered with naysayers who first scoffed at the findings of those they felt to be out-of-step with conventional beliefs. One of the earliest examples is when Galileo roiled the religious hierarchy with his assertion that the universe doesn’t revolve around the Earth, but instead that the Earth and other planets in our solar system actually revolve around the Sun.
As one who grew up in the tornado-rich Midwest, it seems that as the years have gone by, storm forecasters now prefer to error on the side of caution when declaring tornado warnings. Even if there is the slightest chance a twister has formed, as determined by reading Doppler radar, authorities will declare a tornado warning regardless whether one has been actually seen in person. While there is nothing wrong with this course of action when lives may be at stake, there is a concern that too many false alarms could lead to people disregarding them.
The same can be said for hurricanes. Many coastal cities are evacuated ahead of time as a precaution, even when the final trajectory of the cyclone hasn’t been determined. So…why are geologists hesitant to issue potential earthquake alerts when a model that has proven accurate in the past signifies an event may occur? Even the most accepted earthquake predictors are inaccurate, so it’s not like there is a single, proven method. My educated guess is that they may fear the consequences of being wrong – not in the sense of an earthquake not happening at all, but more in the sense that they declare an all clear and then the earthquake hits after the public returns home.
On a personal note, this author is not usually one to quickly accept scientific theories or ideas that venture beyond current acceptance and validity. That being said, there is significant evidence that Zhonghau Shou’s Earthquake Vapor Model could be a useful tool in our collective and ongoing effort(s) to accurately predict the occurrence of earthquakes. The key point to remember in this lingering debate is that the goal of all this research is to save lives and/or reduce injuries. That being so, just one correct prediction, whether it’s from a new source or not, is easily worth the many lives it could and would save.
If you find this topic to be interesting too, here are several resources available through Amazon.com.*
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- Pretor-Pinney, Gavin, The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds, 2006.
- Shou, Zhonghao (Author), Yan Fang (Author), Wenying Shou (Editor), Earthquake Vapor Model and Precise Prediction, 2016.