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The Hammer of Thor: Part 2
The New Madrid Fault Line is not a true fault line as we see out on the west coast. Instead, it reveals itself in the remains of a rift valley, in the plate basement rock, now covered by younger sediments. "Volcanic activity weakens the plates and forms rifts in the plates. The New Madrid Rift, also known as the Reelfoot Rift, formed 500 million years ago. Existing twenty-five miles below the surface, seismologists consider it a "failed" rift, because a successful one would have eventually split the plate. Therefore, it is actually a zone of seismic activity." (Stewart and Knox 1995) It is invisible on the surface. The fault system extends 150 miles southward from Cairo, Illinois through New Madrid and Caruthersville, Missouri, down through Blytheville, Arkansas to Marked Tree, Arkansas. It dips into Kentucky near Fulton and into Tennessee near Reelfoot Lake, and extends southeast to Dyersburg, Tennessee. It crosses five state lines and crosses the Mississippi River in at least three places.
How the New Madrid Fault System compares with that of the west coast is that California is at the edge of two large underground plates. An earthquake in California is like hitting a bass drum on its edge: the resonance doesn't really travel far. Missouri on the other hand, is in the middle of a plate. Seismic activity in Missouri is more like hitting the bass drum in the middle: It can resonate to Boston!
A Prediction Goes Sour — BIG TIME
In August 1989, a climatologist and business consultant named Iben Browning predicted that a magnitude 6.5 to 7.5 earthquake would occur near New Madrid, MO on December 3 1990 or within two days of that time. Browning's prediction was based on the fact that the Sun, the Moon and the Earth would be in alignment at the time of the predicted earthquake.
This alignment would create the strongest tidal forces in a century, and it would stress the Earth's crust.
Browning explained the situation using an analogy of a loaded gun. When the gunman removes the safety and pulls the trigger, the loaded gun will go off.
Following this analogy, Browning argued that some faults are at a critical level and ready to be "triggered" by the additional stress.
When one wishes to predict, for that prediction to have any chance at credibility, it is necessary to first demonstrate some sort of track record and second, to have some credible scientific backing.
For Browning's part, he claimed to have successfully predicted the October 17 1989 "World Series" earthquake, which caused significant damage in and around San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California. In addition, Browning claimed to have successfully predicted other earthquakes.
For the scientific backing, that came from Dr. David Stewart, a professor of geology at the Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau (now a former professor - more on this later), who endorsed the Browning prediction and saying that it was consistent with his own research results.
Because of this area's infamous history, the Browning prediction, as one might expect, received an enormous amount of media attention. Journalists descended on New Madrid on December 3. The National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (NEPEC) organized a study team to evaluate Browning's prediction.
The study team concluded, "Browning's prediction of a major earthquake near New Madrid, MO on December 3 1990 (or within two days of that time) is not scientifically supportable. His method is no better at predicting earthquakes than random guessing."
Others claimed that successful predictions presented by Browning, including his claim of a successful prediction of the 1989 "World Series" earthquake, were not very compelling.
An Eyewitness to History
Fred Keller a longtime journalist was there that fateful day in December, as the world watched and residents along the New Madrid Fault system held their collective breaths.
From Fred Keller's Report
I am a former newsman born, raised, lived most of my life within an hour of New Madrid. I attempted to report on the 1990 big quake that didn't happen and even tried to defend on the radio the need for earthquake preparation to a big Detroit DJ who was intent on laughing at the whole situation.
I visited downtown New Madrid on a Sunday afternoon in 1990 when dozens of broadcast trucks from all over were parked in the downtown area, covering climatologist Iben Browning's prediction of more seismic hiccups like those of 178 years earlier.
Climatologist? Why did we think he, in the New Mexico desert, knew more than the seismologists did? Perhaps he fooled some quasi-experts because he sounded very intelligent. Once the frenzy began, it fed itself. The parking and extra phone lines for the vehicles appeared to be very neatly planned. A sheriff's deputy minding the jail a block away wondered why CBS needed five satellite trucks from different cities.
CNN was halfway up on the Mississippi River levee, reporting at least once an hour that a quake had not come and shaken the levee, yet! All were in grave danger if a big one had really happened.
A well-known disc jockey from Detroit called me in Cape Girardeau, and talked live with me three times on air, laughing at any idiots down here who had decided the sky was falling.
The Missouri Governor decided the National Guard needed a practice run of setting up a mobile hospital at the Cape airport that very weekend, but insisted it had nothing to do with Browning's prediction.
A seismologist from St. Louis told us his seismograph seemed even calmer than usual during those days."
Iben Browning died some years later.
Where is He Now? — Dr. David Stewart
What of the scientist who "beat the drum" for Iben Browning, Dr. David Stewart? Dr. Stewart's story is most interesting.
In 1976, Stewart was involved in providing scientific validity for another earthquake prediction.
A psychic named Clarissa Bernhardt predicted (in an article in the National Enquirer) that a major earthquake (magnitude 8.0) would occur in North Carolina, somewhere near Wilmington and Southport, between January 13 and January 20 1976.
Stewart, who at the time was a professor of geology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, endorsed the psychic's prediction and said that it was consistent with his own research results.
Since Stewart was a scientist and a professor, his endorsement of the psychic's prediction gave it scientific credibility.
The prediction made front-page news, and it affected the lives of people in the area where the earthquake was predicted. About 40% of the businesses in the area reported a decline in business. About 40% of the people took some sort of action to protect their homes, and about 17% stockpiled emergency supplies
The earthquake did not occur.
Dr. Stewart, at the time of his support for the Browning prediction of the December 3 New Madrid Earthquake, was serving as a professor of geology at Cape Girardeau University.
During his career, Dr. David Stewart has held positions as a hydraulic engineer and hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Southern California (1965-67). He was a professor on the faculty of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, (1971-1978) and held a professorship at Southeast Missouri State University (1988-1993).
Dr. David Stewart studied theology, philosophy, and English at Central Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri (1955-58) and studied chemistry, biology and social sciences at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg (1962-63). He also studied commercial photography at Los Angeles Trade Technical College (1959-60). He completed a BS degree in Mathematics and Physics at Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy in 1965 and was salutatorian of his graduating class. His MS and PhD degrees are in geophysics (theoretical seismology) and were earned from the University of Missouri at Rolla in 1969 and 1971 respectively.
He spent a semester in medical school at the University of North Carolina (1973) and has been a Certified Childbirth Educator (CCE) with the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (AAHCC) since 1975. He has spent some 200 hours in training with Dr. Gary Young (ND), internationally recognized authority on aromatherapy and essential oil production…
Dr. Stewart is also a Registered Aromatherapist (RA) with the nationally recognized Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC), which is endorsed by the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists (NAHA), of which he is a member.
Where is he now? As a Registered Aromatherapist and Executive Director for the Center for Aromatherapy Research and Education (CARE), he conducts training seminars leading to Certification (CCI) throughout North America. His courses include Healing Oils of the Bible, Raindrop Technique, Applied Vitaflex, Aromachemistry and Emotional Release using Essential Oil.
Prediction vs. Probability
According to Sam Penny, author of the Scenario 7.9 series:
A "prediction" is considered to be when someone specifies a place, a near term time-frame, and a magnitude. There is a current prediction by UCLA geologists that there will be a 6.5+ in southern CA before September 4 of this year. Reading between the lines they are saying the probability is greater than 50% of this happening, while the "standard" probability predicted for that region in that time by the USGS is closer to 10%. So, if it happens, that is a strong statement that the prediction was right, but not proof. If it does not happen, it is a moderate statement that the prediction has no validity, especially if the event occurs a few weeks afterwards.
The USGS is in the business of providing probabilities that can create hazard maps, which I personally do not like. These are like actuarial tables and are used to let the insurance companies and developers bet on how long a structure will stand. They do not consider the real risk to our country." He goes on to say, "...seismologists are working on ways to do predictions, as opposed to estimates of probabilities. In time, I expect they might find a way to do it, but it will require more knowledge than we currently have. And when someone is able to predict, how it can be used most effectively.
The probability that you will die is 100%, but if I could tell you the day, hour, and minute, how would it affect your life? Shouldn't you make out a will in any case, or would you want to wait until the day before to do it? What if a truck hit you on the way to the lawyer's office?
There is a "ramp up" to an earthquake. It is the passage of time. And maybe we can find some valid indicators in the short time before the shaking starts.
One, I can already tell you. There is a 30-second window before the shaking from a major earthquake on the New Madrid reaches Memphis. Sensors on the fault could radio warnings, and action could be taken.
Penny says that now the rule in Memphis is that all fire stations are to keep their equipment inside with the doors down. Is 30 seconds enough time to get the doors open and the equipment outside?
"Yes," he says, "if the system is in place and tested and the firemen trained in responding immediately. So, a very short-term prediction of violent shaking is already possible. Why not take advantage of what we already can do?"