The Haicheng Earthquake and Its Prediction

Zhonghao Shou
Published in Science and Utopya 65, page 34, November 1999 (in Turkish)

The 7.3 Haicheng, Liaoning earthquake on February 4, 1975, is as famous as the 7.8 Tangshan earthquake in the would. It becomes well-known not because of its damage, but a debate of the prediction about it. A group of international scientists called the Haicheng Earthquake Study Delegation visited Haicheng, and announced that the prediction is "An extraordinary achievement", and "The first major shock to have been accurately predicted anywhere in the world" [1]. On the other hand, many scientists deny it, for example, Geller et al.[2] cite that there were 1,328 deaths and 16,980 injured. Let's look at the report of the Delegation at first, then talk about what we can learn from the earthquake.

The report depicts that the Haicheng earthquake at 19:36 LT devastated 90% of the structures, the city had 90,000 people, and "Casualties in excess of 100,000 would have ordinarily been anticipated-- had this earthquake not been predicted accurately enough to effect massive evacuation of the local population from their dwellings on the afternoon and evening of February 4". It describes the whole process about how the prediction was proposed as following three steps:

(1) The medium-term prediction: "At the State Seismological Bureau (SSB) conference in June 1974 a medium term prediction was made that a magnitude 5-6 shock might occur in the northern Pohai area in the next 1-2 years".

(2) The short-term prediction: "On January 13, 1975, a State Seismological Bureau conference made a short- term prediction that there would be an earthquake of 5.5-6 in the Yingkou- Dairen - Tantung region of Liaoning Province in the first 6 months of 1975" (Refer to Fig. 1 of [1]).

(3) The imminent-term prediction: "The imminent earthquake prediction was given on February 4 to the provincial and local Party and Revolutionary committees, and the official warning was issued that day."

There are two questions in the report. First, it does not exhibit whether those predictions have documents or publications to support their reliability. Second, it does not explain what made the SSB improve the predictions from one step to the next.

Moreover, in the predicted area, Yingkou (40.67N, 122.25E)- Dairen (38.92N, 121.58E)- Tantung (40.17N, 124.34E), there are one medium and seven small cities (Similar to or bigger than Haicheng). The population was more than 3 million at least. Is it possible that so many people could have been evacuated within 6 hours in very cold winter? Moreover, Haicheng (40.83N, 122.75E) is near, but out of the predicted area. It is not clear why the Haicheng residents needed to be evacuated from a not predicted area for a 5.5-6 earthquake.

To further study the prediction, let's look the main method for the prediction: "If the interval between medium -force quakes is shorter than 47 days and more than five such quakes occur consecutively, another one with magnitude above 7 is likely to strike within 6 months" [3].

If this method were reliable, it would be suitable for any earthquake database. Therefore, I checked it on the Southern California Earthquake Database between January 1, 1975 and October 1, 1995. I found that there were 124 such intervals, but only 7 of which or 5.6% hit the method for size equal or bigger than 7 (Even including big earthquakes in Northern California), and 24.2% were for size 6~6.9. Furthermore, the 6.0 Whittier, Southern California earthquake (34.06N, 118.08W) on October 1, 1987 did not have a such interval. Clearly, the method is unreliable. Therefore, the report should interpret how the SSB relied on a wrong method to obtain the achievement.

On the other hand, the death number does not deny the prediction. For example, the 6.1 Afghanistan earthquake on February 4, 1998 killed 4,000 people, but Shou's prediction for this earthquake, having the signature from the US Geological Survey on January 5, 1998, is still successful [4]. Therefore, if the SSB can exhibit their documents or publications of their medium- and short- term predictions, the world society should recognize the predictions because the Haicheng earthquake happened where no earthquake had occurred before, and those predictions are the first attempt of the Chinese scientists.

Now let's discuss what we can learn from the Haicheng earthquake. Like many other earthquakes, the Haicheng earthquake destroyed myriad constructions, caused huge pools, and gaps, and so on. An unusual character of the Haicheng earthquake is that there had been no earthquake there before. This is a good example to deny that earthquakes always occur at seismic gaps. In fact, if earthquakes always occurred at those gaps, there would no earthquake in the world because the first earthquake would have no place to locate.

Now let's compare the Haicheng earthquake with the Tangshan earthquake, it has four important sights:

(1) Unusually high temperature: A part of the ice in a shade of a frozen reservoir melted during a very cold winter [5], and many snakes suicided on the frozen ground [6, 7].

(2) Abnormal pressure: Water was erupting as high as 2.3 m two hours before the quake [5], and the pressure of the oil well Xing 5 sharply increased from 116.8 at. on October 8 to 137.0 at. on October 11, 1974 before the quake[8].

(3) Gas emission: Sulphureous gas emitted before the Haicheng earthquake [7], and so did carbon- dioxide before the Tangshan earthquake [9, 10].

(4) Earth-flash: At 19:36 of February 4, 1975, one minute or more before the quake, the No. 31 express train of Dalian-Beijing was approaching the Tang-Wang-Shan station near Haicheng. "Very bright purplish red flashes suddenly glittered in the dark sky before the train. The drivers immediately pulled down the emergency brake. Just as the train stopped, the strong quake came" [6].

All above precursors can be explained by Shou's earthquake clouds model, and are reliable and useful for short - term prediction [4].


I thank Caltech libraries, and Caltech Ph.D. students Harrington, D. and Shou, W.Y.

References and Notes

[1] Haicheng Earthquake Study Delegation. Prediction of the Haicheng earthquake. Eos 58, 236-272 (1977).

[2] Geller, R.J., Jackson, D.D., Kagan, Y.Y. & Mulargia, F. Earthquakes cannot be predicted. Science 275, 1616-1617 (1997).

[3] Li, H. China's campaign to predict quakes. Science 273, 1484-1486 (1996).

[4] Shou, Z.H. Earthquake Clouds a reliable precursor. Science & Utopia 64, 53-57 (1999).

[5] Yang, C.S. Temporal and spatial distribution of anomalous ground water changes before the 1975 Haicheng earthquake. Acta Seismologica Sinica 4, No.1, 84-89 (1982).

[6] Tang, X. Anomalous meteorology. A General History of Earthquake Study in China, 49-84 (Science Press, Beijing, 1988, in English).

[7] Jiang, J.C. & Du, Z. A study on the relationship between the events of hibernating snakes crawling out from their holes (EHSCH) and the earthquakes. Journal of Seismological Research 7, No. 6, 725-734 (1984).

[8] Wu, Q.L. & Liu, A.J. Anomalous variations in production oil wells before and after the great Haicheng and Tangshan earthquakes. Acta Seismologica Sinica 5, No. 4, 461-466 (1983).

[9] Shi, H. X., Cai, Z.H. & Gao, M.X. Anomalous migration of shallow groundwater and gases in the Beijing region and The 1976 Tangshan earthquake. Acta Seismologica Sinica 2, No.1, 55-64 (1980).

[10] Shi, H.X. & Cai, Z.H. Case examples of peculiar phenomena of subsurface fluid behavior observed in China preceding earthquakes. Acta Seismologica Sinica 2, No.4, 425-429 (1980).

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