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Author Topic: Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?  (Read 52075 times)


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Francisco asked the Naked Scientists:

Hi everyone, I love the show, and just had a question concerning something brought up in the April 13th podcast.

Previously you mentioned how clouds might be able to help predict when earthquakes are going to strike. I was wondering if further research has been done or has any information been updated since the earthquake in China?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 07/06/2008 12:57:09 by chris »


Offline JimBob

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #1 on: 07/06/2008 15:06:38 »
Would the person on the podcast who drew this connection please address this question? I have heard nor read anything about a connection between cloud formation and earthquakes.

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #2 on: 07/06/2008 15:23:04 »
Jim, there has been some, but not much, research into this for the last 20 years. I have not listened to the podcast and don't have time to reply right now, if nobody has posted a reply I will try to tomorrow night.

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #3 on: 07/06/2008 16:14:38 »
See - Paul was kind enough to send this reference to me and I have only skimmed it for the first few paragraphs. Paul may also be able to add to this.

I am having trouble trying to see the keyboard - it is too early in the morning here in the States - 10 AM!!!!! (need more caffeine, need more caffeine)

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #4 on: 07/06/2008 16:20:08 »
All of this reminds me of something too. Is your original question referring this? [nofollow]
"The ionosphere is distinguished from other layers of Earth's atmosphere because it is electrically charged through exposure to solar radiation." They're suggesting that this high altitude, ionic activity increases (or maybe just fluctuates) just before a shallow quake.

It's a rather spotty connection, but a pattern is a pattern. My hat is off to those researchers who've noticed it.


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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #6 on: 08/06/2008 21:21:25 »
I actually think Mr Zhou once tried to become a member here! anyway, here are some of the papers on the subject.

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #7 on: 08/06/2008 21:22:23 »
Cloud anomaly before Iran earthquake
{Nanyang Normal University, Henan, 473064, China
(Received 8 December 2006; in final form 22 March 2007 ) In the 1980s Russian scientists found a thermal anomaly before an earthquake and abnormal cloud above an active fault. In the following 20 years, thermal anomalies were widely studied, however abnormal cloud was seldom reported. Here geostationary satellite sensor data was used to study the abnormal cloud above the Iran active fault. The linear traces with high temperature in thick clouds spread along the main tectonic structures. Sixty-nine days later a M6.3 earthquake occurred close to the abnormal clouds. The same clouds appeared on 25 December 2005 and 64 days later a M6.0 earthquake occurred. In these two cases, the abnormal clouds indicated the rough area of the future epicentre. If geophysical measurement data, satellite thermal data and abnormal cloud data are combined, it is possible that it will contribute to earthquake studies.

1. Introduction
In the 1980s Russian scientists found some short-lived thermal anomalies from
satellite images before an earthquake in central Asia (Gorny et al. 1988). Since then
many scientists have studied this thermal anomaly with satellite sensor data in
Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Iranian and Algerian earthquakes (Qiang et al. 1990, Xu
et al. 1991, Tronin 1996, Nosov 1998, Tronin et al. 2002, Ouzounov and Freund
2004, Saraf and Choudhury 2004, 2005). The short-lived thermal anomalies typically
appear 7–14 days before an earthquake, affect several thousands or tens of thousand
square kilometres, display a positive deviation of 2–4K or more and disappear a few
days after the event. However, it seems that few scientists noticed the other research
put forward by Morozova (1997). She found some abnormal linear clouds above an
active fault. A linear hole trace in a large thick cloud was observed by Russian
satellite on 25 May 1984. She considered that the gas emitted from the earth rushed
up to the sky, eroded the cloud, and formed the linear trace. This was called earth
degassing and it was an good example of atmosphere–lithosphere coupling. Until
now many researchers explained the thermal anomaly before an earthquake with the
earth degassing hypothesis. Tadanori (2003) also observed an upward tornado-type
seismic cloud over the epicentre region before the M7.2 Nanbu earthquake of 17
January 1995.
The above two methods—the thermal method and the cloud method—were all
put forward by Russian scientists; while the former was widely studied, the latter
was seldom reported. Maybe the reason was that the latter was difficult to quantify,
while the former could be quantified easily. Here we studied the abnormal clouds
over the Iran fault with geostationary satellite sensor data.
*Corresponding author. Email:
International Journal of Remote Sensing
Vol. 29, No. 7, 10 April 2008, 1921–1928

2. Data and methods
Earthquake data is derived from Incorporated Research Institutions of Seismology
supported by the US National Science Foundation. Meteosat-5 geostationary
satellite data are derived from the Dundee Satellite station, and MODIS data are
downloaded from Land and Atmospheres Archive and Distribution System of
NASA (LAADS). The time resolution of Meteosat-5 geostationary satellite thermal
infrared data is 1 h, so we can see the rapid change of clouds in a short time period.
MODIS can not track this rapid change due to its low time resolution. However, it
can give a detailed snapshot because its spatial resolution (250 m) is higher than
geostationary satellite sensor data (about 5 km).
Thermal anomaly can be detected by comparing land surface temperature (LST)
at different times, and LST is easily quantified. If the LST in one area is obviously
higher than its average, it may be considered as a thermal anomaly. But how to
quantified a cloud anomaly? Here we provide a new method to find this abnormal
cloud. We put the cloud image series into a computer animation, and observe the
cloud movement. When the clouds pass over an active fault, the cloud shape will
change somewhat. According to this change we can identify the abnormal clouds.
Figure 1. Sketch map of the Iran main fault.
1922 G. Guo and B. Wang

3. Meteosat-5 data analysis
Figure 1 shows the main faults in Iran and the Arabian area. An active fault is located
in south Iran and extends north-west to south-east. Figure 2 shows the image series of
clouds movement on 15 December 2004. The white colour represents clouds with low
temperature (about 240 K), and the black colour represents warm surface with a
temperature of about 300 K. A black trace appeared in thick clouds at 07:00 UTC, it
became clear at 10:00 and disappeared at about 14:00. The anomaly is that the black
trace stayed there for about 7 h and did not move with wind. Current meteorology
theory can not explain why the cloud is stationary under the wind blow. The clouds
moved from west to east, while it could not cover the black trace. This meant warm
atmosphere exited, when the cloud passed here, the liquid or solid water in cold cloud
changed to invisible water vapour. So the land surface is visible as figure 3 shows. Two
small black traces can be seen clearly at 09:00. All the traces spread from north-west to
south-east, the same as the tectonic direction. Sixty-nine days later a M6.3 earthquake
occurred at 30.74u N, 56.87u E. This is the only earthquakes bigger than M6.0 in 25–
35u N, 50–60u E from 12 December 2004 to 12 November 2005.
On 26 December 2005 the same cloud appeared at the same place. A main black
trace, together with two small traces, spread along the tectonic structure and stayed
there for hours. Sixty-four days later, a M6.0 earthquake occurred at 28.12u N,
Figure 2. Cloud series images of Iran on 15 December 2004.
Cloud anomaly before Iran earthquake 1923
Figure 3. Cloud images of Iran on 26 December 2005. (a) 06:00 h, (b) 09:00 h.
1924 G. Guo and B. Wang
56.86u E. This was the only earthquakes bigger than M6.0 in 25–35u N, 50–60u E
from 26 December 2005 to 26 December 2006. We downloaded Meteosat-5 cloud
images from 27 December 2005 to 28 February 2006, and found no similar clouds.
This meant that the earthquake on 28 February 2006 was the only earthquake
corresponding to the abnormal clouds on 26 December 2005. Note that the periods
from the cloud appearance to earthquake occurrence were 69 days and 64 days.
These periods are very similar.

4. MODIS data analysis
MODIS data derived at 07:05, 15 December 2004 showed more details of cloud
anomaly than Meteosat-5 image due to its high spatial resolution. There were two
small corridors above the main corridor, and six below. Three earthquakes are
denoted with red dots (figure 4). Their distances to the main corridor are about
90 km and 150 km, respectively. The M6.8 Bam earthquake is located exactly in the
main corridor. In Tronin’s researches thermal anomaly is about 200–1700km away
from the epicentre (2002).

5. Cloud anomaly before the 26 December 2003 Bam earthquake
In Swapnamita and Saraf’s research, they found a thermal anomaly before the 26
December 2003 Bam M6.8 earthquake. Figure 5 shows the thermal anomaly around
Bam, however, it seems that they did not notice the clouds close to Bam. The cloud
Figure 4. MODIS true colour image of Iran cloud, derived at 07:05, 15 December 2004.
Cloud anomaly before Iran earthquake 1925
head pointed exactly at Bam; is there any relation between cloud and earthquake?
Because the time resolution of the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer
(AVHRR) data that Saraf used is low, it is impossible to identify these abnormal
clouds with AVHRR data. Figure 6, provided by Shou (2004), showed the cloud
movement. We can see that the cloud head stayed close to Bam, and did not move
with wind, while its tail moved with wind. This is a clear difference between an
earthquake cloud and a meteorology cloud. A reasonable explain is that stresses
may build up in tectonically active regions; these stresses may bring about subsurface
degassing. Upon their escape to the atmosphere, these gases may be cooled
and formed into clouds that can be seen. As there existed a stable gas source, this
cloud seemed to be stationary around the future epicentre. It looks very much like
smoke emitted from a chimney. Liperovsky et al. (2005) constructed a model that
proposed that aerosols, increased ionization velocity and upstreaming air flows
above an active fault could lead to abnormal electric fields, infrared emissions and
abnormal clouds. This model showed that abnormal clouds can be formed above an
active fault.

6. Result and discussion
In this paper we used geostationary satellite sensor data and found abnormal clouds
related with seismic activity. Two earthquakes occurred 69 and 64 days after the
Figure 5. Thermal anomaly around Bam on the night of 21 December 2003 (Swapnamita
et al. 2006). Note the strange clouds at the right side of Bam.
1926 G. Guo and B. Wang
abnormal cloud appearance, respectively. We considered that cloud anomaly and
thermal anomaly were both related with the earthquakes. Their mechanism is still
unknown, although some rock cracking experiments have been carried out to try to
explain the anomaly. Qiang’s earth degassing theory (1990), Freund’s P-holes theory
(2002), or Liperovsky’s ionization theory (Liperovsky et al. 2005), whichever it is, it
is beyond this paper’s scope. Sometimes thermal data can not be used due to thick
clouds, while the cloud anomaly method can be used in any weather conditions. If
the two methods, thermal anomaly and cloud anomaly, are combined together with
other geophysical methods, it will help the study of earthquake. Of course it will
take a long time to predict earthquakes with satellite sensor data.

The Meteosat-5 satellite data was provided by the Dundee Satellite Station, and
earthquake data was provided by US Incorporated Research Institutions of
Seismology. This research was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of
China (30500393). We greatly appreciate their help. We would also like to thank the
anonymous referees whose suggestions improved the manuscript.

FREUND, F., 2002, Charge generation and propagation in rocks. Journal of Geodynamics, 33,
pp. 545–572.
GORNY, V.I., SALMAN, A.G., TRONIN, A.A. and SHILIN, B.B., 1988, The Earth outgoing IR
radiation as an indicator of seismic activity. Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences of
the USSR, 301, pp. 67–69.
BOGDANOV, V.V., 2005, On the possible influence of radon and aerosol injection on
the atmosphere and ionosphere before earthquakes. Natural Hazards and Earth
System Sciences, 5, pp. 783–789.
Figure 6. Cloud images of Iran for 20 and 21 December 2003 (Shou 2004).
Cloud anomaly before Iran earthquake 1927
MOROZOVA, L.I., 1997, Dynamics of cloudy anomalies above fracture regions during natural
and anthropogenically caused seismic activities. Fizika Zemli, 9, pp. 94–96.
NOSOV, M.A., 1998, Ocean surface temperature anomalies from underwater earthquakes.
Volcanology and Seismology, 19, pp. 371–375.
QIANG ZUJI, XU XIUDENG and LIN CHANGGONG, 1990, Thermal anomaly—precursor of
impending earthquake. Chinese Science Bulletin, 35, pp. 1324–1327.
OUZOUNOV, D. and FREUND, F., 2004, Mid-infrared emission prior to strong earthquakes
analyzed by remote sensing data. Advances in Space Research, 33, pp. 268–273.
SARAF, A.K. and CHOUDHURY, S., 2004, Satellite detects surface thermal anomalies
associated with the Algerian Earthquakes of May 2003. International Journal of
Remote Sensing, 26, pp. 2705–2713.
SARAF, A.K. and CHOUDHURY, S., 2005, NOAA-AVHRR detects thermal anomaly
associated with 26 January, 2001 Bhuj earthquake, Gujarat, India. International
Journal of Remote Sensing, 26, pp. 1065–1073.
SHOU, Z.H., 2004, Ban earthquake prediction and space technology. Available online at (accessed 6 June 2007).
2006, Remote sensing observations of pre-earthquake thermal anomalies in Iran.
International Journal of Remote Sensing, 27, pp. 4381–4396.
TADANORI ONDOH, 2003, Anomalous sporadic-E layers observed before M7.2 Hyogo-ken
Nanbu earthquake: terrestrial gas emanation model. Advances in Polar Upper
Atmosphere Research, 17, pp. 96–108.
TRONIN, A.A., 1996, Satellite thermal survey—a new tool for the studies of seismoactive
regions. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 17, pp. 1439–1455.
TRONIN, A., HAYAKAWA, M. and MOLCHANOV, O.A., 2002, Thermal IR satellite data
application for earthquake research in Japan and China. Journal of Geodynamics, 33,
pp. 519–534.
XU XIUDENG, QIANG ZUJI and LIN CHANGGONG, 1991, Thermal anomaly and temperature
increase before impending earthquake. Chinese Science Bulletin, 6, pp. 291–294.
1928 Cloud anomaly before Iran earthquake

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #8 on: 08/06/2008 21:23:31 »
Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 7, 02175, 2005
SRef-ID: 1607-7962/gra/EGU05-A-02175
© European Geosciences Union 2005

Earthquake Vapor, a reliable precursor
Z. Shou (1), D. Harrington (2)
Earthquake Prediction Center, 500E 63rd 19k, New York, NY 10021

When rock is stressed by external forces, its weak parts break first and small earthquakes
occur. For example, the Southern California earthquake database shows that
small shocks happened before and around all large hypocenters there. The fact that
a large earthquake produces a large crack suggests that small shocks generate small
crevices. Next, groundwater percolates into the crevices. Its expansion, contraction,
and chemistry further reduce the cohesion of the rock. The water is heated due to friction,
eventually generating vapor at high temperature and pressure. The vapor erupts
from an impending hypocenter to the surface through the crevices, rises and cools to
condense into a cloud, denoted an earthquake cloud. At the same time the dehydration
of the rock near the impending hypocenter rapidly decreases its yield strength, as
seen in laboratory experiments. Thus, the same physical mechanism that creates the
earthquake cloud triggers the earthquake.
An earthquake cloud is distinguished by its sudden appearance and unusual shape and
movement. It comes from an impending hypocenter, so its tail generally points toward
or predicts an impending epicenter. The more mass an earthquake cloud has, the bigger
the subsequent earthquake. By comparing the magnitudes of previous earthquakes
with the mass of their associated earthquake clouds as seen in satellite images, an empirical
relationship has been developed for predicting magnitudes. Based on statistics
from about 500 events, the longest delay from an earthquake cloud to its earthquake
is 103 days, and the average is 30 days, so an earthquake cloud can predict the time.
Therefore, an earthquake cloud can predict an earthquake. For example, on Dec.20,
2003, a distinctive cloud suddenly appeared above Bam, Iran, and then stuck there for
24 hours in spite of strong wind before the devastating Bam earthquake on Dec. 26,

In general, the vapor released at the epicenter does not immediately encounter atmospheric
conditions suitable for condensation into a cloud like the Bam cloud, but
instead travels a considerable distance before forming a cloud. This severely limits
the spatial precision of the prediction. However, in some cases, another related atmospheric
phenomenon, denoted geoeruption, occurs directly above the impending
epicenter. Geoeruption emerges as a sudden localized atmospheric heating or disappearance
of cloud or fog, and the warm region persists despite the presence of wind
and other clouds nearby.
By both earthquake clouds and geoeruptions, Author Shou made a set of 50 earthquake
predictions to the United States Geological Survey. 68% of them were correct in time,
location, and magnitude. The probability of each earthquake occurring within the 3
prediction windows was determined from earthquake databases. Numerical simulation
shows that a random guesser has a probability of 0.000062, or a 1 in 16,000 chance,
to make a similar set of predictions of the same precision and obtain a success rate of
at least 68%. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first method to have generated a
large statistically significant set of earthquake predictions.

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #9 on: 08/06/2008 21:27:50 »

fig 2

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #10 on: 08/06/2008 21:28:44 »


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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #11 on: 08/06/2008 21:29:47 »


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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #13 on: 08/06/2008 21:46:55 »
The problem i have (or one of them) is that this 'cloud' does not move at any height or wind pattern, even though clouds around it do. Also, if you look at some of the so called 'strange clouds' both HERE and on youtube, they are not strange. They are a mix of optical effects and known clouds, not one cloud is unknown.

The 'strange' black line or band that is quoted as a 'cloud' could quite easily be Virga.

Jim, why would a fault emit such heat roughly 60 days before an eruption? And is this heat along a fault line or open crevice (hay, i don't know Geo... OK). If a pre eruption specific cloud were to form, i would have assumed it to be a convective cloud, similar to those after an eruption...pyrocumilus.

more 'cloud' photos and video HERE
« Last Edit: 08/06/2008 21:53:05 by Paul. »

Offline chris

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #14 on: 08/06/2008 22:15:19 »
Thanks, Paul, these are really useful. To add to your point, if you read our news item (link above) I point out mechanisms other than heat that might be at play, as postulated by the scientists, but this is speculation and not based on any facts or evidence.


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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #15 on: 09/06/2008 10:51:09 »
Hi Chris,

just read the information you linked to. the problem with linking cloud dissipation to ions is that ions actually help produce (warm) clouds by acting as condensation nuclei, in fact, such ions were put forward as a factor in climate change by scientists at the Max Planck Institute.

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #16 on: 09/06/2008 18:15:22 »
Hi Paul

indeed, and that point is made - that ions usually have the reverse effect - but at the same time there is the suggestion that there might be some other similar phenomenon at play...

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #17 on: 12/06/2008 18:36:59 »
I think we will have to wait and see then, Chris.

It would be nice if the ir satelite data (images) were released in a time lapsed form, for the whole of that day and the other days.

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Did clouds change over China before the earthquake?
« Reply #17 on: 12/06/2008 18:36:59 »


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