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Atmosphere above Japan heated up before earthquake says NASA
May 18, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

The atmosphere above Japan was observed by NASA to heat up rapidly several days before the Great Earthquake, probably caused by stresses in the fault releasing massive amounts of radon.
"Briefly, the primary process is the ionization of the air produced by an increased emanation of radon (and other gases) from the Earth’s crust in the vicinity of active fault. The increased radon emanation launches the chain of physical processes, which leads to changes in the conductivity of the air and a latent heat release (increasing air temperature) due to water molecules attachment (condensation) to ions."
posted by stbalbach (31 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
At least it didn't release Rodan amirite?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:59 AM on May 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


At least it didn't release Rodan amirite?

Boo! Hiss!
posted by goethean at 10:00 AM on May 18, 2011


Radon? Physical processes? Pah! This is just more evidence of it being caused by HAARP experiments!

stop hitting me stop hitting me stop hitting me
posted by ymgve at 10:05 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Optimal outcome: the scientific community carefully analyzes data, constructs testable hypotheses, is able to come to a better understanding of the signs preceding earthquakes which leads to lives saved.

Likely outcome: Funding cuts force cancellation of studies; timecubesque internet sites publish unfounded predictions, mass panic ensues.
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:20 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


RADON DETECTORS WILL TELL YOU IF AN AEARTHQUAK IS COMING!!!!!1

I FOUND MIEN ON AMAZON
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:23 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I FOUND MIEN ON AMAZON

Oops! You forgot to link.
posted by nzero at 10:31 AM on May 18, 2011


This thread is starting out stupid. (I know this isn't helping.)
posted by ryanrs at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So does this mean there really is "earthquake weather"?
posted by Manjusri at 10:35 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see those maps on a much larger scale. Was/is this activity only present around Japan? I'd be willing to bet that a series of these maps placed around the ring of fire has a series of blue/orange dots all the time.

Also the first time NASA tries to use this data to issue a warning and then nothing happens? Goodbye funding.
posted by Big_B at 10:57 AM on May 18, 2011


So does this mean there really is "earthquake weather"?

If so, then what are the boundaries and borders? I was in San Diego during the Easter earthquake last year and all of its related aftershocks, and didn't notice a damn thing about the weather. That earthquake lasted over a minute and was fairly powerful. I don't remember anything special on the morning of the Northridge quake, or the Loma Prieta quake for that matter. But maybe, in all these cases, I was too far away?

I do believe in "wildfire weather." 'Course, most of the recent burns in SoCal are arson, but still.
posted by librarylis at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2011


The "Lithosphere- Atmosphere- Ionosphere Coupling" idea is pretty interesting. The thought is that released radon ionizes the atmosphere, thus attracting water molecules, which combine and condense, releasing latent heat.
posted by exogenous at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread is starting out stupid.
I don't bother to read the first 20 comments on most threads any more.


The article doesn't say exactly which satellites were gathering data, but my guess is that there's enough archived IR/ionosphere telemetry to cross-reference with USGS data, and quickly find whether the two phenomena are reliably correlated or not. It sounds as if the size of the Sendai earthquake made the sequence of events obvious enough to allow a clear hypothesis, whereas previously they were seeing the IR but not what would make it distinguishable from other possible causes.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The atmosphere above Japan was observed by NASA to heat up rapidly several days before the Great Earthquake...

Yeah. My new band had a couple of gigs here in Tokyo during that period, and we're fucking hot.

I shoulda dropped NASA a note, but it slipped my mind.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:14 AM on May 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't find this idea particularly plausible. The earthquake fault was deep under the ocean, and if that's where the radon was released, it doesn't seem as if it would readily reach the atmosphere. An atom of radon weighs far more than a molecule of water, and radon in the water would tend to sink, not rise.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:30 AM on May 18, 2011


I'm pretty sure radon gas is less dense than liquid water (not water vapor).

The paper (PDF link, also the second link of the post) has more details on the methodology. Apparently this correlation has been seen before:
Similar observations were observed within a few days prior to the most recent major earthquakes China (M7.9, 2008), Italy (M6.3, 2009), Samoa (M7, 2009), Haiti (M7.0, 2010) and Chile (M8.8, 2010) (Pulinets and Ouzounov, 2011, Ouzounov et al, 2011a,b).
posted by exogenous at 11:41 AM on May 18, 2011


An atom of radon weighs far more than a molecule of water, and radon in the water would tend to sink, not rise.
Atoms aren't point densities. Hydrogen has a 55 pico meter radius and oxygen has a 66 picometer radius, while radon has a 134 pico meter radius. So a radon atom probably has a larger volume then a water molecule.

Also, radon is a Nobel gas. I find it kind of hard to believe that it would actually sink in water. I mean, CO2 is heavier then H2 but it doesn't sink.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 AM on May 18, 2011


Noble, rather. It didn't invent dynamite.
posted by SlyBevel at 11:51 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Noble, rather. It didn't invent dynamite.

Indeed, the noble gases: argon, freon, krypton, radon, and so on.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2011


Er... yeah. Noble gas.
posted by delmoi at 12:25 PM on May 18, 2011


Freon - not a noble gas, although it sounds like one. Maybe you're thinking of neon, helium or xenon.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:06 PM on May 18, 2011


The combination of high pressures and cold temperatures can sequester gases in deep water. The Lake Nyos catastrophe is an example of a sudden release.

That noted, in general I'd tend to take NASA at their word. Not a high tolerance for errors there.
posted by dragonsi55 at 1:23 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If this is something that can be studied across other earthquakes, this could lead to some amazing and life saving advances. If it turns out to just be a blip, at least it's an interesting one.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:27 PM on May 18, 2011


I don't understand why the gasses are mostly released days before the event, and not during and afterwards.
posted by stbalbach at 1:36 PM on May 18, 2011


I mean, CO2 is heavier then H2 but it doesn't sink.

Doesn't sink in water, you mean? Because CO2 certainly does sink. It's one of the basic junior high chemistry demonstrations. You can fill a bowl or whatever with CO2 and put a lit candle in it and it will go out.
posted by hippybear at 1:42 PM on May 18, 2011


why the gasses are mostly released days before

The hypothesis is that stress building up in the rock (stress about to be relieved by the quake) cracks the rock, releasing the radon (created by uranium decay).

The radon has to rise up through the water to reach the atmosphere (where it ionizes the air), so the 3-day lead time might be considerably longer over land faults (IF the gas can get out).

If this pans out (the idea has been rejected in the past, but ...), it could change everything.
posted by Twang at 1:56 PM on May 18, 2011


If I'm reading those temperature maps right, the biggest effect was on the same day as the earthquake and began about three - five days earlier. That's a pretty fast effect.

I'm not clear about the altitude where the temperature rise takes place. Is is close to the ground or high up? If the radon causes heating low down, the heat should cause a rising column of air, so maybe the heat happens low and then the heated air rises.

I suppose I should read the whole durn PDF.... ah, pg 3: "These data are mainly sensitive to near surface and cloud temperatures." pg 13 has the map, so you can see better detail.
posted by warbaby at 2:36 PM on May 18, 2011


same day day before.

I forgot it's always tomorrow in Japan.
posted by warbaby at 2:39 PM on May 18, 2011


It's Always Tomorrow In Japan would be a great band name.
posted by hippybear at 2:42 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's Always Tomorrow In Japan would be a great band name.

Unless you were in Japan, and then it would just be odd.

OTOH, "It's Always Yesterday In America" also has a certain ring to it.
posted by armage at 4:08 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, if Alissa Milano can have a music career in Japan, then this band can have a different name on either side of the Pacific.

Plus, the completists will be purchasing two copies of each album. That's double the sales!
posted by hippybear at 4:19 PM on May 18, 2011


I don't remember anything special on the morning of the Northridge quake, or the Loma Prieta quake for that matter. But maybe, in all these cases, I was too far away?--librarylis

My grandmother always used to talk about earthquake weather. Heck she lived through the San Francisco 1906 earthquake, so maybe she knows something. On the other hand the weather couldn't have been more normal during the Loma Prieta quake. Maybe it was too normal! I should have suspected something.

And so much for pets predicting earthquakes. My cat, who was scared of just about everything, walked around the house like nothing was happening, with all the shaking and rattling and dishes coming out of the cupboards.

But that earthquake was a tiny fraction of what happened in Japan. So maybe it doesn't count.
posted by eye of newt at 9:55 PM on May 18, 2011


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