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Scientists Use GPS to Predict the Future of Natural Disasters

March 26, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 368

Dr. Kosuke Heki is a Professor at the Hokkaido University in Japan. Recently, he has been studying the total number of electrons present in the upper ionosphere, 300 kilometers from the earth's surface.

GPS uses overlapping electrical fields to triangulate a location on the Earth. Because of the curvature of the earth, the atmosphere is thinnest - with the least number of electrons - directly up, and gradually thickens as the line of measurement becomes more parallel to the Earth. Normally, a smooth wave pattern is formed as the number of electrons between the satellite and the ground receiver falls and rises as the satellite passes directly over, and then further away. Examining the data following the Tohoku earthquake in March of 2011, the professor noticed a localized disruption of Global Positioning System equipment had taken place just before the earthquake.

The electron count was much higher than it should have been based on its proximity to the satellites passing at the time, indicating electrical interference between the satellite and the ground receiver. At the time, there was no way of knowing what the disruption signified, but about an hour later, an earthquake registering a 9.0 on the moment magnitude scale ripped a cleft in the ocean flood just off the East coast of Japan. The shock to the ocean floor triggered a series of tsunami waves that rose over 40 meters tall. The waves rushed away from the epicenter, travelling up to 10 kilometers inland. The blast was so forceful that it moved the whole island of Honshu eastward eight feet. Almost 16000 people were killed, with another 30000 reported missing or injured.

The increase in the number of electrons in the ionosphere continued until after the quake, and then dropped again sharply. GPS signals continued to be disrupted by the booming sound waves vibrations.

Japan already has an early warning system in place, but it is based on seismic activity; the warning is prompted once the quake has already occurred, providing warning only minutes ahead of time, at best. Japan is on a very active fault line, making it especially prone to earthquakes, and is simultaneously particularly vulnerable to it's destructive forces, being a tiny island with a lot of coastline. Researchers are considering the potential for these inflated numbers to be used to predict earthquakes. Such early warnings could go a long way to reducing damage. The Fukushima Nuclear Plant - which is still, a year after the quake, leaching highly radioactive material into the food supply - may have had time to shut down before the first waves hit.

Technology that is normally used for vehicle tracking can now be used to limit the damage that natural disasters can have on communities.

Source: EzineArticles
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