Wed, May 11, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Council working on earthquake warning system

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff Reporter

The National Science Council (NSC) is working on establishing a cross-departmental integrated mechanism for monitoring earthquake precursors in hopes of setting up an effective national earthquake early warning system.

Many countries have initiated studies of earthquake precursors in an attempt to predict earthquakes, and Taiwan should promote similar research given that the nation lies on a seismic belt and its geological structure is prone to landslides, National Science Council Deputy Minister Chen Cheng-hong (陳正宏) said yesterday.

Research into this topic by academic centers and government agencies only began in earnest after the Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake, Chen said.

Although studies over the past decade have yielded significant results, Chen said the data are scattered in various research centers — including the Central Weather Bureau, the Central Geographic Research Bureau and universities — and their methodologies differ, he said.

As such, the council has established a “Taiwan Earthquake Research Center” and initiated a three-year project to integrate all the data on studying earthquake precursors to improve predictions and precautions.

Lin Cheng-horng (林正洪), director of the center and a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Earth Sciences, said some of the studies showed promise for predicting earthquakes.

These include analysis of past earthquake patterns (including frequency, scale, location and depth), changes in electromagnetic signals and monitoring of groundwater levels or ground movements from GPS sites.

For example, researchers have found a pattern of the level of groundwater dropping abnormally a few hours or a couple of days before an earthquake, he said.

However, more proof using different methodologies is need to test whether these phenomena can be effective earthquake precursors, he said.

“The ongoing project is like the process of forming a baseball team. We are still trying to verify which methods are like players with higher batting rates,” said Chen Yue-gau (陳于高), executive secretary of the project and a professor at National Taiwan University’s geosciences department.

About 100 on-site earthquake early-warning systems have been set up in elementary schools across the nation, the researchers said.

If they prove to be effective, it may give people a 10-second warning before an earthquake strikes, they said.

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