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GPS has the potential to forecast earthquakes with a two-hour lead time

By: April Carson

It is theoretically possible to predict earthquakes two hours in advance, potentially saving numerous lives. However, achieving this requires the development of GPS sensors that are 100 times more precise than the ones currently in use. Although the network of satellites used for GPS is highly accurate, the actual implementation of the technology on ground level can be unreliable.

In recent decades, there has been a shift in expert opinion regarding the presence of discernible seismic activity before earthquakes. Some argue that these events are inherently chaotic and unpredictable. However, Quentin Bletery and Jean-Mathieu Nocquet from Côte d’Azur University in Nice, France, may have finally put an end to this debate.

Their research proposes that small and fast movements of the Earth’s crust could be detected by GPS sensors before an earthquake occurs. It is believed that these small shifts in tectonic plates accumulate over time, eventually leading to an earthquake release.

Using GPS data, the duo has successfully identified a gradual, accelerating slip between tectonic plates preceding an earthquake. While these slips may be too subtle to be captured by seismographs, their detection could potentially serve as an indicator of impending earthquakes.

While this approach has been attempted in the past, Bletery argues that previous research has only examined a small number of earthquakes. Consequently, the warning signs generated by these studies have been inconsistent, sometimes appearing without any subsequent earthquake or occurring an uncertain period before the actual event.

The researchers collected GPS measurements for five minutes, ensuring accuracy within a centimeter. These measurements were taken within 48 hours before 90 distinct earthquakes. By analyzing a comprehensive dataset of over 3000 measurements, the scientists compared the recorded ground movements with the anticipated direction of movement that each location would experience during an earthquake. This meticulous analysis allowed for a thorough examination of seismic activity.

The results of this research show the potential for a two-hour lead time in earthquake forecasting. In light of these findings, GPS data can be used to develop early warning systems to better protect citizens from the devastating effects of earthquakes.

In every instance, they discovered that the most significant shift in the anticipated direction took place right before the earthquake. Additionally, they observed a progressive increase in movement towards the expected direction in the last 23 data points, with the final seven surpassing any other measurements recorded during the entire 48-hour duration.

This discovery could potentially revolutionize the field of earthquake prediction. If these warning signs can be detected in advance, then it may be possible to provide a two-hour lead time ahead of an impending earthquake.

According to Bletery, this phenomenon indicates a subtle and gradual shift between tectonic plates, occurring approximately two hours before earthquakes. This discovery holds the potential to revolutionize earthquake detection with a reliable and precise method. Although the scientists are yet to test their hypothesis on a larger dataset, this research offers fresh hope for earthquake forecasting.

By leveraging GPS technology and advanced analytics techniques, seismic activity can be monitored closely to identify the warning signs of earthquakes with lead times of up to two hours.

However, a challenge arises. Bletery points out that the noise levels of existing GPS sensors restrict detection to the comprehensive data set rather than individual sites. According to him, this necessitates GPS sensors capable of detecting movements as minute as 0.1 millimeters.

"We are currently unable to detect individual earthquakes at such a small scale, therefore making predictions is beyond our reach," Bletery explains. "However, the presence of activity suggests that something significant is occurring. By advancing our measurement techniques, such as enhancing sensor sensitivity or increasing the number of sensors, we may gain the ability to perceive and predict these events."

By making use of this activity, it may be possible to detect a warning sign before earthquakes and warn people accordingly. This development could prove helpful in saving lives and minimizing damage caused by these events. In the meantime, the research team plans to focus on improving their sensors and expanding their dataset.

According to Roland Bürgmann from the University of California, Berkeley, the findings show promise. However, further research is needed to validate the proposed signals. Bürgmann emphasizes that while there have been retrospective observations of earthquake precursors in the past, such as foreshocks and deformation, they are not distinctively different from similar events occurring at other times. According to Bletery and Nocquet, this two-hour-long precursor candidate shows promise as it examines numerous earthquakes.

If validated, this method of forecasting could save thousands of lives. It has the potential to provide crucial lead time for evacuations and safety precautions. In doing so, it may prove to be a monumental step in earthquake detection and mitigation.

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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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