A new generation of potential earthquake precursors

The past 10 years have seen renewed interest in the detection of potential earthquake precursors from scientists at the University of Tokyo, Université Joseph Fourier, Berkeley, University of Hokkaido, Stanford, Australian National University, Carnegie Institution, Harvard).  Remarkably these studies haven’t been marked by overhyped press releases, but rather the gradual reporting of diverse earth behaviors that have putatively been observed prior to some large earthquakes.

Obviously, this search is nothing new and countless earthquake precursors candidates have been proposed.  Most of these have been resigned as post-hoc explanations…at best. But the search has continued because lurking behind all of these works is the idea that if the precursory observations were to robustly generalize this would move us forward along the path towards earthquake prediction.

Over the past decade putative pre-earthquake correlative observations spanning the solid and fluid earth systems have included:

  • Atmospheric pressure from storms (Liu et al., 2009)
  • Ionospheric behavior (Heki, 2011; Heki and Enomoto, 2013)
  • Transient crustal motion (Mavrotomartis et al., 2015; Loveless and Meade, 2016)
  • River water chemistry (Ingebritsen and Manga, 2014)
  • Earthquake rates (Bouchon et al., 2011)
  • Earthquake faulting styles (Lister et al., 2018)
  • Solid earth tides (Ide et al. 2016)

In all of these cases, the sample sizes are small…really, really, really small…like 1-3 events.  We can definitely do better than that and we need to. There’s now continuous reporting of high-quality data at global scale…and tons of it.  Compute is cheap, ML gets faster by the week, and there are so many applied ML researchers with fantastic ideas.

It’s time to search again.


  • Bouchon et al., Extended Nucleation of the 1999 Mw 7.6 Izmit Earthquake, Science, 2011
  • Heki, Ionospheric electron enhancement preceding the 2011 Tohoku‐Oki earthquake, Geophysical Research Letters, 2011
  • Heki and Enomoto, Preseismic ionospheric electron enhancements revisited, Journal of Geophysical Research, 2013
  • Ide et al., Earthquake potential revealed by tidal influence on earthquake size–frequency statistics, Nature Geoscience, 2016
  • Ingebritsen and Manga, Earthquakes: Hydrogeochemical precursors, Nature Geoscience, 2014
  • Liu et al., Slow earthquakes triggered by typhoons, Nature, 2009
  • Lister et al., Lineaments and earthquake ruptures on the East Japan megathrust, Lithosphere, 2018
  • Loveless and Meade, Two decades of spatiotemporal variations in subduction zone coupling offshore Japan, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2016
  • Mavrommatis et al., A decadal‐scale deformation transient prior to the 2011 Mw9.0 Tohoku‐oki earthquake, Geophysical Research Letters, 2015

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