SYZYGY...An Earthquake Newsletter
Sizz-a-Jee (Linked by a common need & interest)
Editor: Jim Berkland
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James O. Berkland
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Hello Folks:

A brand new year now faces us and the fourth year of SYZYGY begins. To those subscribers who have already renewed for 1993, thank you. To those who may have been forgetful, this may be your final issue (please check your mailing label to see if you are current). To some of my former subscribers, please accept this sample of things to come as an enticement to rejoin the SYZYGY family. Up until the last issue SYZYGY was created using "Appleworks" but now it is with an MS-DOS "Windows" program, which seems more appropriate, since we are commonly dealing with Seismic Windows.

For the 8-day December window I had 100 per cent success. I had called for quakes of at least 3.5M in the San Francisco Bay Area (and got two, despite having had none since February). I also was rewarded with 3.9M and 3.7M events in Southern California (not exceeded since the window closed on December 15th). Also I had mentioned my concern about an imminent quake on the Hayward fault, and the strongest one in over three years (3.7M) hit on December 20th. Finally I had predicted a major quake for the Ring of Fire and the first 7+M event in the world since October hit Indonesia on December 11th (PST). That 7.5M monster generated an 80-foot high tsunami, which swept through and over many coastal villages on Flores Island, killing more than 3000 people. It struck three days after a solar eclipse. The last killer tsunami in Indonesia struck on September 11, 1979, five days after a lunar eclipse. That was during the last of four Seismic Windows I had selected for 1979, and I had been severely criticized by my colleagues for that prediction (see "Earthquake Prediction Faulty", THE WASHINGTON POST, September 8, 1979).

A little retribution arrived in the December 12, 1993 SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL which printed an Associated Press item about the failure of the High Science prediction for a 6+M earthquake at Parkfield. Included within the article were several quotes from recent issues of SYZYGY, including: "The U.S. Geological Survey giving earthquake prediction a bad name," and "They put all their predictive eggs in the Parkfield basket and they could end up with egg on their faces." On January 2, 1992 the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS summarized the situation: The Geological Survey's $19 million Parkfield project has been the world's most intensive quake prediction experiment. More monitoring equipment was installed along the San Andreas near Parkfield than along any other segment of any fault in the world. The prediction was the first and only specific one ever made by the agency and endorsed by the National Earthquake Predication Evaluation Council and its California counterpart.

What is the public reaction to all this? Jack Varian of Parkfield was quoted as saying, "We've enjoyed all the hoopla and the press and everything that brings a little notoriety to Parkfield. What other town can boast their No. 1 economic return comes from earthquakes.?" Coreen Collins, of Long Beach, California wrote an item for the LOS ANGELES TIMES (October 25, 1992, p. IV 15) which began: "I applaud all the great strides in seismology, I'm one of the first people to tune in to my local radio station after a quake to find out all the pertinent stuff--where was the epicenter and what the magnitude was. I wait with bated breath for those all-too-familiar aftershocks. I salute those scientists who have made earthquakes so interesting and enlightening. But to predict when the shaking starts, forget it." Coreen, I wish I knew your address so I could mail you a copy of the December SYZYGY, or copies of over 200 press items about what I have been doing since 1974. Just because High Science fails does not mean that those of us with a nose to the ground must fail. Successful earthquake prediction is possible, plausible, and is practiced---by JOB.

This month I want to salute Al Lindh, of the U.S. Geological Survey for a number of recent meaningful statements about the Parkfield Experiment. (1) "The quake hasn't happened, but I know it will at some point." (2) "Some earthquake predictions succeed, and some will fail, but the important thing is we continue to learn more about earthquakes, and people translate that into intelligent, rational action." (3) "When we started at Parkfield, most people in this country were afraid the earthquake prediction would be a social disaster ( by causing panic and harming the economy). It turned out that the people were much smarter than scientists and the press give them credit for." (4) "Science progresses only by bold theories, and some of them fail." (5) When asked by a reporter when he now thought the Parkfield quake might hit, Lindh said, " this point, it would only be proper for me to withdraw from earthquake prognostication at Parkfield. With my track record, who would listen to me.?" All of the above quotes came from the January 2, 1993 editions of the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE or the SAN JOSE MERCURY.
The final Lindh quote was highlighted by the Santa Cruz Sentinel in its December 12, 1992 issue: (6) "If you don't pose bold hypotheses, you're not doing science. Hypotheses that don't fail don't teach you anything."

Until the second half of quotation number (6), I found myself in rare agreement with Al Lindh for all of his statements. Assuming that he was quoted correctly, the last sentence of No. 6 is ridiculous, as it implies that hypotheses should be designed to fail. Science learns much more from basic truths than from false theories. That is why scientific honesty is imperative. Too much time and effort is wasted trying to disprove an unsubstantiated "fact". Scientific progress is not served when we must take two steps backward for every one forward. Perhaps Al would agree with my revision to his phraseology, "Even failed hypotheses can teach you something." That something is often humility.

During the summers of 1959 and 1960 I worked with the US Geological Survey in the Brooks Range of northern Alaska. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the fascinating land and people of our 49th State, and I was constantly quizzing the sourdoughs and Eskimos about their area. As a native Californian I am familiar with the clues of coming storms, as the wind shifts around to come from the south and the high, thin cirrus clouds precede the lower stratus and cumulus clouds in a regular procession. In northern Alaska I literally had no clue, and I prevailed upon a bewhiskered old catskinner for some local knowledge about the weather. He had trouble hearing me and/or understanding me from on top of his D-8 Bulldozer, so he shut his engine off and asked me to repeat my question. When I was done, he looked a bit exasperated and said, "Why, Hell, young man, you don't predict weather in these mountains; this is where it's made!" No meteorologist ever made it plainer. (Some might think that the catskinner's statement could apply as well to earthquakes in California, but some of us DO predict them anyway.)

SEISMIC SENTRIES (Pet of the Month)
Early in the morning on April 18, 1990 (note the date) a swarm of three 5-magnitude quakes hit near Watsonville, California. It has now been nearly three years since a quake so strong has rocked the Bay Area. A few days later I received a letter from Jennifer Harris regarding her pet's reactions to something preceding the quakes.

Dear Mr. Berkland,
I wanted to express my gratitude for the informative (and reassuring) conversation we had on the evening of the "swarm" during which I had promised an account of my cat's behavior just prior to that event. Shortly after the 17 October (1989) earthquake, my husband and I were adopted by a little red calico cat, apparently a housecat by her friendly behavior, but forced to live outside due to my allergies. (which do not preclude me from lavishing her with affection, albeit from a distance.)
A few days prior to the swarm, I noticed she was quite skittish and would occasionally bolt from me, or sit in a very unaccustomed corner on the hard concrete near the garden door rather than on her usual rocking chair, which we had placed outside for her. (At this point I called QUAKELINE and heard your update!)
I knew something was really amiss when she refused her favorite breakfast (scraps of chicken and concentrated milk); She also trembled a bit and stared at the ground between tremors and did not eat until the following day, but has since certainly made up for lost time!
Thanks again for the talk, and also for providing such a vital service to the Bay Area. All the best, Jennifer Harris

It is worth noting that her cat had fled her previous residence around the time of the Loma Prieta Quake. Although we cannot say she left before that quake, the number of lost and found cats in the local classified sections did climb to record numbers within three weeks prior to the 7.1M disaster and then nearly doubled that record within the two weeks following the quake.

Nineteen years ago this month I made my first earthquake prediction, and two days later it hit. It was only of 4.4 magnitude, but as I had called for a local 4.0-5.0M event within a week, it fit perfectly, and I wondered what was so difficult about predicting quakes. I still wonder.

When I became the Santa Clara County Geologist in September 1973, my job description included the statement that I was expected to conduct independent research into geological matters involving public safety. For various reasons that aspect of my work was changed following my correct prediction of the Loma Prieta Quake. It has been made abundantly clear that my County work no longer includes research into earthquake prediction, so I do it during my free time and make the results available in SYZYGY and on QUAKELINE.

During the last four months of 1973 the Bay Area was shaken by six quakes ranging in magnitude from 3.0-4.7. All six occurred during maximum tidal periods, which I was later to christen Seismic Windows. In 1974 there was a NOAA warning for coastal areas to be alert to several extremely high tides, especially around January 8, 1974. On that date I hypothesized that the same luni-solar forces, which promoted ocean tides might cause the solid Earth to deform and perhaps trigger fault lines into action. (I did not know then that Earth tides had already been well established, and that many other scientists had looked into the tide-quake correlation, with varying results.) All I knew was that our six quakes had fit my theory, and that the conditions indicated that another substantial jolt was imminent. I was very cautious with my information but did make my prediction known to several co-workers and to John Alfors, of the California Division of Mines and Geology. When the 4.4M event hit near Gilroy on schedule, I was delighted and was encouraged to make a total of seven more predictions for high tide periods during 1974. The results for that year were six out of eight, for 75 percent, at least 3 times a chance result for a 3.5+ quake. The January 10, 1974 4.4M event was the first quake exeeding 4.0M in the Bay Area in two months and there were only three that large during the entire year of 1973. Thus my prediction for a 4+ quake within a week was against much higher odds than I knew at the time. It was centered near Gilroy at 03:22 a.m., and was felt over 4,000 square miles of central California, awakening people in San Francisco, San Jose, Monterey, and many other areas. Its maximum intensity was V on the Modified Mercalli scale, which means that damage was limited to items knocked off shelves.

Less than three hours earlier the eighth strongest quake of the year (7.2M) hit the Ring of Fire near the Vanuatu Islands. As a word to the wise, the tidal forces of January 8, 1974 will not be equalled until March 8, 1993, and after that, not until November 14, 2016.
For those of you without access to a good earthquake data base let me show you the pattern of 4+ magnitude quakes centered within 70 miles of San Jose, California:

Year No. Max. Year No. Max. Year No. Max.
1970 4 (4.7M) 1980 13 (5.9M) 1990 12 (5.4M)
1971 3 (4.6M) 1981 8 (4.8M) 1991 7 (4.7M)
1972 8 (5.1M) 1982 7 (4.6M) 1992 1 (4.0M)
1973 3 (4.7M) 1983 4 (5.3M)

1974 5 (4.4M) 1984 16 (6.2M)

1975 1 (4.4M) 1985 1 (4.9M)

1976 2 (4.3M) 1986 12 (5.8M)

1977 5 (4.8M) 1987 5 (4.7M)

1978 2 (4.2M) 1988 8 (5.7M)

1979 7 (5.9M) 1989 30 (7.1M)

It is clear that the years with the most 4+ M quakes are those with the largest quakes, just as you might suspect. The past year is has the smallest maximum (4.0M), and is striking in its paucity of local earthquakes. In fact, had I used the USGS reading of 3.9M, rather than the Berkeley Richter determination for the Livermore quake of February 27, 1992, there would have been no local events of at least 4.0M. during the entire year.

The events were already discussed in the Foreshocks section, but, briefly, during the December 7-15, 1992 Seismic Window, there was a veritable plethora of quakes on December 12th, including 3.9M at Lucerne Valley, and 3.7M at Barstow, along with 3.7M and 3.6M events between San Juan Bautista and Watsonville, and a 7.5M major killer in Indonesia (local time). These events satisfied all three of my predictions for a 3.5-5.5M event within 70 miles of San Jose, within 140 miles of Los Angeles, and for a 7+M earthquake within the Ring of Fire.

Big things are coming soon, but just when is still speculative. One of the consistent clues has been very heavy antecedent rainfall; another is a prolonged seismic drought in a given area; another is the Mogi Doughnut, with a ring of pronounced activity several hundred miles distant from the quiet zone; another is a period of extremely strong tides. All of these clues are now reverberating in the Bay Area. Let us discuss the tidal situation.

Tidal forces are generated mainly by the Sun and Moon, and are at a maximum when they line up with the Earth at the time of the new and full phases of the Moon. Since the force varies with the cube of the distances, they are more significant when the Moon is closest (at perigee) and/or when the Sun is closest (at perihelion). Perihelion every year is in early January, and perigee occurs monthly, every 27.5 days. The New or Full Moon (syzygy) occurs simultaneously with the day of perigee only from two to five times per year, and seldom does it happen during three consecutive months. Such is the case during February, March and April of 1993. The last such year was 1985 and the next is 2002.

During the upcoming January 7-15, 1993 Seismic Window, the Full Moon of January 8th will be 42 hours ahead of the perigee and the highest Golden Gate tidal range (8.2 ft.) since last July will occur also on January 8th, making this a window with an 75% probability for (1) a 3.5-6.0M quake within 70 miles of San Jose; (2) a similar magnitude quake within 140 miles of Los Angeles; and (3) a major (7+M) quake somewhere in the world, probably in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Other active areas, such as the Mediteranean Sea, India and China are also especially vulnerable at this time.


For current subscribers we are enclosing the top Seismic Windows selected for 1993, a year we will long remember. Next month we will also enclose a list of last year's major quakes with the highest yearly total in many years, at least 21 events of 7+M, about 50 percent higher than an average year, and in sharp contrast with only six major quakes during the World Series Quake year of 1989. There is no question that world seismicity is picking up at a time when High Science seems to be giving up on earthquake prediction. Although SYZYGY does not have all of the answers, it does provide some of the pieces of the puzzle, and with your help, we will continue to offer timely, true and titillating information so that you and yours can be safer.


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