MOONQUAKE: What Does the Science Say?

By Darcy Cowan 03/03/2011 17

As usual I’m late for the bandwagon, hey, guys, wait up! Ok, so David Winter over at The Atavism has already compared Ken Ring’s predictions to the actual data around the latest quake and done an excellent job[1]. Several other Scibloggers have also contributed articles around this topic (1,2,3,4)[2], hopefully I can provide a slightly different angle.

After the interview with Ken Ring on Tuesday I received a phone call from a mate about Ken’s hypothesis and we had an interesting discussion about the nature of science and the plausibility that one guy is right and an entire field of scientists is wrong. I felt it was low, in the spirit of egalitarianism he (and I suspect many others in the community) thought it was worth taking seriously. One thing that came up was the possibility that the world community of seismologists has completely ignored any effect that the moon might have on earthquake activity.

On the face of things the proposal that the moon has an effect on the Earth’s crust is uncontroversial. After all tides in the worlds oceans is a direct effect of the Moon’s (and Sun’s) gravity on the massive body of water encircling out globe. Indeed the crust of the Earth does also move due to the Moon, up to 0.5 meters. It is also known that tidal forces can inject large amounts of energy into a celestial body. So the suggestion that the Moon could put stress on the faultlines of the Earth and trigger earthquakes is not necessarily far-fetched.

Reasonable conjecture has now played its part, we have identified what appears to be a reasonable hypothesis now we must make predictions and collect data we can use to test those predictions.

Unfortunately for Ken and his supporters even a cursory examination of the literature shows that this is a question that has been looked at many  times over at least the last 45 years[3,4,5,6] and further back than than 100 years[7]. Each time the results have been either negative or shown an increase in frequency of earth quakes so small as to be useless as a predictive guide[6].

Data has been collated from thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of earthquake events at various faultlines around the world over decades worth of recorded data. Were there to be a significant correlation between earth tidal forces caused by the Moon (or the Earth/Moon/Sun system for some analyses) then this would have been evident from the published data. That scientists would keep this quiet merely in order to ridicule Ken (or keep the status quo or retain funding or whatever the current conspiracy theory is) simply begars belief.

This is a mind set reminiscent of the alternative medicine crowd or the cold fusion fringe. That “Scientists”[8] are dogmatic, grant chasing, self important and self aggrandising puppets of the NWO seems to be a recurring theme when evidence doesn’t go their way. If this method of predicting earthquakes held up to scrutiny then thousands of lives could be saved, surely only the most far-gone of conspiracy theorists can convince themselves that the scientific community is this indifferent to human life.

In conclusion-  Scientists: 1 ; Ken Ring: 0.



1. Go there now, it’s much more interesting than what follows.

2. As above note, and if I’ve missed any – sorry.

3. Simpson, John F. (1967) Earth tides as a triggering mechanism for earthquakes, John F.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 2, Issue 5, August 1967, 473-478

4. Hartzell, S. H., and Heaton, T. H. (1989). The fortnightly tide and the tidal triggering of earthquakes.
Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 79, 1282-1286.

5. Vidale, J. E., Agnew, D. C., Johnston, M. J. S., and Oppenheimer, D. H. (1998). Absence of earthquake correlation with Earth tides: An indication of high preseismic fault stress rate. Journal of Geophysical Research 103, 24567-24572.

6. Kennedy, M., Vidale, J. E., Parker, M.G. (2004). Earthquakes and the Moon; Syzygy Predictions Fail the Test
Seismological Research Letters; September/October 2004; v. 75; no. 5; p. 607-612

7. Schuster, A. (1897). On lunar and solar periodicities of earthquakes.
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 61, 455-465.
Reference from “Earthquakes and the Moon; Syzygy Predictions Fail the Test” footnote #6

8. Scare quotes as these people are obviously referring to figments of their imagination, instead of real live human beings not unlike themselves. An impersonal boogyman is what is required.


[EDITED: 3/3/11 16:44pm, for my poor grammar]

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Filed under: Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science Tagged: Christchurch, Crust (geology), Earth, Earth Sciences, Earthquake, Ken Ring, Moon, New Zealand, pseudoscience

17 Responses to “MOONQUAKE: What Does the Science Say?”

  • Reasonable conjecture has now played it’s part
    …its part.

    To be fair, scientists tend to be grant chasing (part of the job), self important and self aggrandising (to get the grants).. and I would add pedantic. Some are dogmatic. But they also test hypothesis and try to break them and, as you have pointed out, the moon influence hypothesis has been tested and broken quite a few times.

  • meh, grammar, who needs it? I’m lucky I have a spell checker. Cheers

    Perhaps self important in a good way? You forgot puppets of the NWO. Good paymasters, them.

    No, fair enough, but obviously my point was about emotive character assessination when as you rightly emphasise it is the merits of the argument we should be concerned about.

  • self important? A minority perhaps, or is a scientist who engages in public debate considered to be self important and self aggrandising. If so we really can’t win then.
    Being pedantic is a necessary part of the job, at least when it comes to data and experiments. It is a challenge to not to carry across this pedanticism to science communication and generalise and simplify ideas, but something that many scientists do need to work on.

  • I would be interested in hearing both sides of the story to see what similarities come out….. To be honest I have been watching the Chch Earthquake Monitor since the first day and I too close to the 6.3 felt it would happen, in actual fact I was saying this to my flatmates and uncle 2-3 days before as I saw quick increased activity in the area of the 6.3 aftershock. I’m no professional and neither do I have a PhD or qualification in Seismology.

    There is and has always been tell tale signs of events that will occur previous to the event, LOOK TO NATURE, she tells all, LOOK TO THE ANIMALS they can sense when somethings wrong.

  • Symonds,
    that’s what we here at scibblogs are trying to do, Ken Ring has had his 15minutes (if only), now we are giving the the other side.

    I’m glad you “felt” the earth quake coming but unless you have an actual suggestion as to What _specifically_, in nature we should be looking to I hope you can see that your exhortation is spectacularly useless.

  • Areas of Recent Earthquake Research
    To those not familiar with the well documented, peer reviewed and published, and NASA and NOAA satellite monitored scientifically reviewed principals behind the planetary /sun/ earth interaction let me bring you up to speed. Quite a few studies link increased probability of earthquakes with increased solar flare/flux output. The mechanism is believed to be extra heating of the ionosphere raising and lowering the atmospheric height changing the angular momentum of the earth and thus slowing and quickening it’s spin and subjecting already stressed earthquake faults to sharp jolts. Other possible mechanisms are possible electromagnetic field interaction with the rotating metallic core of the earth or a piezoelectric expansion of rocks in the earth. Other possibilities including static discharges related to atmospheric moisture content.
    Heating earthquake faults can be detected on infra-red satellites now and unusual fault heating can under the right atmospheric conditions also cause moisture to rise from the earth at the fault which can condense to form a high altitude “earthquake cloud.” It is also possible to detect changes in the electrical field of the ground near earthquake faults under stress and we are working on delivering data sources of that to you.
    Another method of predicting earthquakes has identified the influence of the moon’s angle to the equator or distance from earth in its orbit as a factor.

    • @Justme,
      FYI bare links are not appreciated. If you have a point to make, use your words.

      That said, the first link regarding tidal triggering of earthquakes is pretty clear that a very specific set of circumstances is required, a distinction that neither Ken nor most of the public appear to be making. The second link is about oceanic tides and if there is a point you should put finger to keyboard to enunciate it..

      some references might be nice.

  • @Rod

    Sounds interesting, could you provide either links or references to the peer reviewed papers?

  • @Rod

    Have you looked at the NOAA site? Your comments are somewaht at odds with material there.

    For example, check this quote:
    >2. Is there a relationship between solar events and earthquakes?

    “An international meeting of scientists was convened in London from November 7 to 8, 1996, on the subject of relationships of earthquakes to other phenomena for prediction purposes. Papers of that meeting appeared in the Geophysical Journal International, vol. 131, pgs. 413 to 533, 1997. (Perhaps you should read those articles and the summary by Geller). The consensus of the meeting was that prediction was not possible. “


  • My mother mentioned to me that California was trying out some sort of warning system for earthquakes. I had been under the impression that there could only be seconds of a warning. I assumed there are scientists who are constantly attempting to expand that time window. So, of course, I was looking stuff up and I found this article. Is there any merit to this and are there possibilities? (I used to live in Seattle and LA, so earth shakes are not new to me). If so, can these instruments be of help here? I am not a scientist, so I’ll just give you the link.

  • Ah, of course. Thanks for spotting that Luis.

    The technology does look promising, though the story does mention a couple of possible hurdles. The signals the instruments measure, in order to be of wide use, would have to be shown to be picked up in other areas. Of course more studies will be required to see if these results are replicable for other geographical situations.

    Still, several hours warning of quakes would be very useful.

  • Ha. Sorry about that, Darcy (and thank you, Luis).

    I really hope the technology can be useful someday!