Overwhelmed by images of destroyed homes, calls for help from under the rubble, and grieving survivors after two cataclysmic earthquakes struck a region straddling Turkey and Syria, people in the Middle East and elsewhere are revisiting an old question: Is there any way we can predict earthquakes?
Salih M. Awadh, an Iraqi academic who has studied the gravitational effects of the planets on the earth’s tectonic plates, believes it will be possible to predict the possibility of major temblors, and wants to develop a global early warning system for earthquakes.
Awadh’s research got new attention this month after controversy erupted over claims on social media that a Dutch earthquake expert had accurately predicted the quakes that devasted southern Turkey and northwestern Syria on February 6.
Three days before the two tremors of magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 struck, Frank Hoogerbeets had tweeted that “sooner or later” there would be a quake of about magnitude 7.5 in the South-Central Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon region. After such a quake actually occurred, the tweet went viral.
Hoogerbeets, who calls himself an earthquake “enthusiast,” based that prediction on the alignment of planets in the solar system. Seismologists dispute that idea, but the controversy over Hoogerbeets’ latest prediction drew attention to an older paper on the topic by Awadh, published in the “Journal of Coastal Conservation” in March 2021.
Rotational Speeds and Geological Stresses
In his paper, titled “Solar System Planetary Alignment Triggers Tides and Earthquakes,” Awadh, who has a Ph.D. in geochemistry and economic geology, suggests that tides and earthquakes are influenced by the position of planets in the solar system. He argues that planetary attraction changes the speed of the earth’s rotation, causing the earth’s tectonic plates to move and triggering earthquakes.
“I used a brand-new methodology that contradicts old known laws and dominant theories,” Awadh told Al-Fanar Media. “My hypothesis is built on the effect of planetary position on the earth and geological stress. Every second, planets change their positions and alignment due to their orbits, velocity, masses, and rotation around their axes and inclination.”
“We need to monitor planetary positions and measure the earth’s changing gravity each second,” he added. “We need to check if the gravitational forces are exceeding the expected value or decreasing, because this affects the velocity of the earth’s rotation. Acceleration and deceleration can cause plates to slide, causing earthquakes. They usually occur at active seismic faults which are known on structural maps.”
Data from 1,037 Earthquakes
In his study, Awadh analysed data from 1,037 earthquakes around the globe during July 2019 and presented a case study of seismicity along the Arabian Plate, whose northern edge presses against the Anatolian Plate in the region where the February 6 quakes occurred. On its eastern and northeastern margins, the Arabian Plate presses against the Eurasion Plate in a region that includes the Zagros fold and thrust belt, along the Iraq-Iran border.
In his research, Awadh predicted a magnitude 5 earthquake on the Zagros fold and thrust belt on February 11, 2021. Such a quake occurred at that time.
“This was the first prediction in the world, based on astronomical data. I sent the research to a magazine, and it actually happened,” he wrote to Al-Fanar Media. It was the first 100 percent correct prediction in this field, he said.
Many scientific agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, discount such predictions. Scientists detect about 20,000 earthquakes around the globe each year, or 55 a day on average, so it’s not surprising that quakes may occur that match such predictions.
It is not currently possible to predict exactly when and where an earthquake will occur, nor how large it will be, experts say. However, seismologists can estimate where earthquakes may be likely to strike by calculating probabilities and forecasts.
Istanbul, for example, is considered to be at high risk of experiencing a major earthquake in the near future, scientists say, but they don’t say when. Twitter users who had hoped Hoogerbeets could be more precise were disappointed. He replied: “I do not have a crystal ball that tells me the date and time.”
Massive Destruction in Syria and Turkey
So far, more than 46,000 people are known to have died in the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, and 115,000 others were injured. With over 6,500 building destroyed, the quakes have also displaced about 2.4 million people in the two countries.
Awadh said the massive destruction resulted from the huge amounts of energy released in the two earthquakes, which lasted about two minutes. Construction quality was also a factor, he added.
“The destruction from a magnitude 7 earthquake in Japan can be zero, while it can be 100 percent in areas of huts and old rickety houses,” he said. “It depends on whether earthquake building codes were followed. I have seen a photo of a modern building, constructed according to the codes, that was left intact, while surrounding buildings were totally ruined.”
A rigid structural system can be risky, and buildings need earthquake-resistant foundations, he added. “Japan has greatly succeeded in this, as well as the United States and some European countries. High buildings that don’t follow such code are at risk and prone to collapsing or cracking.”
Awadh recommends building dams, nuclear reactors, nuclear waste sites, skyscrapers, and other populous buildings on stable parts of the earth’s plates, away from seismic belts.
Early Warning System
More research is needed to validate his predictions, Awadh says. Meanwhile, he recommends correlating world seismic records with planetary configurations.
“I am working to develop an early warning system which I would call the ‘Global Early Warning System for the Prediction of Possible Earthquakes,’” he said.
“Affected by other planets, geological stress can increase or decrease,” he said. “We need constant measurements in each area. When the stress is high, we can predict the possibility of an earthquake. A quake could happen, but the danger might also pass peacefully when the planets change their position and the stress decreases.”
However, funding is needed to for such a project. “We need to develop a huge computer model, hire experts specialised in software and intelligence languages, and an astronomy expert, to develop the idea,” he said. “This requires generous support from global research institutions. This cannot be an individual effort.”
If the research happens and a model is designed, Awadh dreams of making it available to research centres around the globe and to the local sites of high tectonic stress. Above all, such a model would have to decide when authorities should warn inhabitants to evacuate an area for a day or two to avoid an earthquake.
“If we can do this, it will save a lot of people from such natural disasters,” he said. “If an earthquake does not happen, it will not be a failure, it will just mean there was a great possibility of an earthquake, but thank God it did not occur.”
- Engineers in Sharjah Are 3D-Printing Future Homes
- Better Weather Data Will Save Lives as Climate Threats Increase, U.N. Says