Scientists in China are investigating the possibility that seismic events might trigger the creation of strange cloud formations.
Writing in the International Journal of Remote Sensing, Chinese scientists Guangmeng Guo and Bin Wang from Nanyang Normal University in Henan report that about 60 days before each of the two magnitude 6 earthquakes that struck Iran in 2004 and 2005 respectively, a gap hundreds of kilometres long appeared in the clouds over the main fault in the south of the country. The gap remained in place, despite the surrounding clouds all moving, and thermal images showed that the ground around the fault was warmer than the surrounding areas. The Chinese researchers suggest that hot gases escaping from the active fault could have caused water in the overlying clouds to evaporate.
An alternative theory is that ions created by rocks being squeezed together, as was shown recently by researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, could have altered conditions locally, causing the clouds to dissipate. This is not the first time that curious cloud cofigurations have been linked to seismic activity - the authors point to research carried out by Russian scientists in the 1980s who also recorded thermal and cloud anomalies before an earthquake, although no further results have been forthcoming, so it could, quite literally, amount to nothing but a load of hot air.