In the days leading up to an earthquake, something strange is thought to happen in Earth’s magnetic field. There is some evidence that electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) are emitted from our planet’s crust, which become stronger and more frequent just before the earthquake hits.
Now a new NASA challenge is looking for concrete proof to support the theory, potentially offering a warning to those in the quake’s path. The “Quest for Quakes” is a two-week algorithm challenge aimed to develop new software codes or algorithms to search through data on EMPs. Some researchers have suggested such pulses, originating from the ground near earthquake epicentres, could signal the onset of some quakes. “Developing a reliable approach that can separate potential earthquake-induced electromagnetic pulses from the myriad of natural and anthropogenic sources has been a significant challenge,” said Craig Dobson, program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We look forward to seeing the innovative ideas from this competition and learning more about this controversial phenomenon.”
The challenge opened for registration on Tuesday and competitors are asked to submit entries from Monday, July 27 at 1 pm ET through Monday, Aug. 9 at 1 pm ET.
Contestants will be provided with electromagnetic signal data collected over three-month periods from multiple sensors in the close to past earthquakes. Control data with no earthquakes also will be included. Coders will have two weeks to develop a new approach to extract the signals and identify potential earthquake precursors. The individuals or teams developing winning approaches will share a $25,000 prize.
The connection between electromagnetic pulses and earthquakes has been debated for years. Researchers have been looking into the causes of distinct ultra-low frequency EMPs emanating from the ground near earthquake epicentres in the weeks leading up to some moderate and large events. One theory suggests that fracturing rock in the Earth’s crust creates an electrical charge pulse that travels to the land surface and manifests itself as a small change in the local magnetic field. However, there are a number of natural and human-made electromagnetic “noise” sources, such as lightning, solar storms, commuter trains, and traffic, that can mask or mimic EMPs and could be associated with earthquakes. “We are looking forward to the innovative applications that contestants develop to address this real-world challenge and may also save lives,” said Jamie Kinney, a manager fom Amazon Web Services who is funding the research.