Bangalore, Sep 17 (IANS) No earthquake struck Assam Sep 8 or during the last week, but the Chennai geologist who predicted a temblor is sure to be shaken by the aftershocks his prediction triggered in the scientific community.
N. Venkatanathan of Madras University is facing a wave of protests from established seismologists for taking the media and the people on a turbulent ride. They have mooted a proposal for a government mechanism to censor forecasts that fail to stand scientific scrutiny.
"It is unthinkable that somebody can predict the time, magnitude and location," K.S. Valdiya, former director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, told IANS.
Venkatanathan had predicted that the alignment of the sun, moon and mercury with the earth Sep 8 posed a 70 percent chance of triggering a strong earthquake near Dibrugarh in Assam at 8.21 a.m. that day.
Describing it as "nonsense", earthquake expert Ramesh Singh of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kanpur said: "There is no technique that can predict earthquakes. It is risky to make predictions just on the basis of planetary alignment.
"Like a good doctor who makes a diagnosis after several tests, a seismologist must also look at other earthquake precursors before jumping to conclusions," he added.
Said Harsh Gupta, former director of the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in Hyderabad: "I am writing to ministers and secretaries concerned to set up a committee of experts who will critically examine the scientific basis of all earthquake predictions in future, before allowing public announcements.
"Even if he (Venkatanathan) had published his theory, it does not give him the licence to make a prediction and make everybody's life miserable," Gupta told IANS.
Asked why experts like him did not tell the Assam government that Venkatanathan's prediction was wrong, Gupta said: "We cannot do it. Saying that the quake will not occur is also a prediction."
According to Valdiya, who is writing a book on Indian tectonics, there is no connection between planets and earthquakes. "If this man had predicted that the planetary alignment would generate high tides, I might have taken that with a pinch of salt. But earthquakes, no!
"We are unable even to predict rainfall with the 16-parameter model," he added. "In the case of earthquakes, there are many more parameters and most of them are not measurable or determinable."
Added Vinod Gaur, also a former director of the NGRI: "Other than the moon, the planetary bodies are too far away to influence earth."
Gaur has been studying the minute movements of crystal plates for years in northeastern India using a network of satellite stations.
"All that we can say from our studies is that the fault in the region is close to rupture. We cannot predict when it will happen."
The views of Indian scientists reflect that of the US Geological Survey, which said: "While it may eventually be possible to accurately diagnose the strain state of faults, it may never be possible to predict the exact time when a damaging earthquake will occur."
While seismologists, in general, turned away from prediction research in the mid-1990s, some believe the field is still promising despite its perils.
Chinese earthquake prediction research is largely based on unusual events before earthquakes, such as change of ground water levels and strange animal behaviour.
In December 1974, China predicted a major earthquake that did, in fact, occur in February 1975. But sceptics claim the prediction relied most heavily on a series of strong foreshocks and not animal behaviour.
Scientists say remote sensing may eventually help in prediction.
The French micro satellite Demeter has shown strong correlations between certain types of low frequency electromagnetic activity and the seismically most active zones on earth.
It detected a sharp signal of high electron density over southern Japan seven days before a 7.1 magnitude occurred there Aug 29, 2004.
But it seems Venkatanathan is not the only one to have made predictions for September on the basis of planetary positions.
Retired California geologist Jim Berkland predicted with 80 percent confidence one or more earthquakes during Sep 6-13, based upon the lunar eclipse of Sep 7. His online prediction website (syzygyjob.com) said that during this period, a 7.0 magnitude quake would take place somewhere, probably within the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Venkatanathan said his failed prediction only showed that he has to refine his calculations. "My theory is not flawed and I will continue to make predictions," he told IANS.