May 1: Earthquake expert Dong Choi
Seismograph reading from the mini earthquake that shook the Canberra region last month. Photo: from Geoscience Australia website
Dong Choi, the director of research at the International Earthquake and Volcano Prediction Centre, has written papers on the massive earthquakes in both Indonesia and Japan in recent years and has an acute understanding of how they work.
In the wake of the recent early-morning mini-earthquake that jolted the Canberra region out of bed, Mr Choi is today’s guest on Lunch Times.
That concludes our session for today. You can catch up on the full conversation below. See you again next week!
1.00pm: When do you think Canberra will experience another earthquake, and what was the cause of the recent 3.7 magnitude in our region?
Dong: Small earthquakes are difficult to predict.
I don't think Canberra has too much to worry about. Just the tiny ones could happen nearby, and it depends on the place and building structure as to whether they could cause damage. Geoscience Australia is doing more of this kind of work.
12.45pm: Are we seeing an increase in both numbers of and severity of earthquakes internationally, or is this made to look worse because of greater media coverage in the modern age?
Dong: I don't think it is just caused by the media. I really believe big ones are coming more. Many of the earthquakes we've already had are much bigger than before.
The media are doing well, and people want to know details - there is nothing wrong about that. And really, the earthquakes are actually bigger and more widely permeating, in places where earthquakes haven't really happened before. The thermal energy is travelling farther than before.
The media should do more for educating the public about both earthquakes in general, and about preparing for how to deal with earthquakes.
They're all caused by the solar cycle, and the earth discharging more energy from the core. There is reverse correlation between the solar activity and tectonic activity.That's the most major point.
Most mainstream seismologists consider plate subduction as the cause of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but there is no ground supporting plate subduction. I believe earthquakes aren't just related to the sideways movement of plates - they are caused by thermal energy discharged from the core, and the rise to the shallow earth, where the energy becomes trapped and the crust can bulge and crack. All of what we see is the vertical movement of the crust and mantle.
12.35pm: Where does your funding come from?
Dong: The centre was activated just one month ago, and we are raising funds at the moment, mainly from the private sectors. We are hoping to expand more to governments. We are headquartered in the USA, and the chairman and board of directors are doing their best right now to raise funds.
The members of the centre, including myself and associates, are contributing our own resources as well.
We are hoping to get contracts in areas where large developments are planned, and from governments with concern for public safety, insurance companies, oil companies, etc.
12.15pm: There seems to be have been a lot of natural disasters lately. Is there something strange going on under the earth?
Dong: Yes, there is. It is related to the major solar cycle. The earth has gone into what's called solar minimum or a major solar low cycle, similar to the Maunder Minimum which happened from 1645 to 1750, about 360 years ago. That means solar activity is getting lower, and NASA predicted in June last year that in this period, sun spots might disappear altogether.
During that Maunder Minimum, 360 years ago, there was a number of large earthquakes and significant volcano eruptions. There were also very cold years, by temperature - like a mini ice age. Food shortages occurred because of cold summers, and because of the food shortages, there was also a lot of political turmoils.
These days a similar time has come. The earth is discharging more thermal energy from the core, which means gigantic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions will be more likely to occur. The Maunder Minimum lasted for 70 years.
12.10pm: How safe are we in Australia?
Dong: I am concerned about a possible tsunami from the Molucca Sea earthquake. The Australian mainland would largely be protected by the Indonesian islands.
I am worried the tsunami could be a similar size to the 2004 tsunami - a huge tsunami. Potentially devastating for Indonesia and the surrounding areas.
In general, Australia is quite safe. Because Australia's earthquakes are relatively small, we leave the monitoring of those tremors to Geoscience Australia. Our organisation is more concerned with the larger earthquakes.
12.00pm: Our first question in for Dong, and, no surprises, it's on his work predicting earthquakes:
What is the role of your international group? Is it to predict earthquakes? Where is the n ext one likely to occur?
Dong: I am Director of Research of International Earthquake and Volcano Prediction Centre (IEVPC). Our centre mainly predicting the big earthquakes, usually the ones that are magnitude 7 or larger. Predictions are based on the new global tectonic model.
The main purpose is to give the prediction many months before, long-term predictions, but also combined with short term predictions. This gives plenty of time and warning, so people can get ready.
The next one we are predicting is the Kamchapka earthquake, off the east coast of Russia. We are predicting a bigger than 7.0 magnitude quake. Many signs have appeared already, and it could occur within the next one week to one month.
We are also predicting a larger one than this, in the Molucca Sea, between Indonesia and the Philippines. We predict this will be much higher than 8.0 magnitude - we think it will be a huge one, and a tsunami will accompany the earthquake. We expect this to occur sometime between December 2012 and March 2013.