Atmosphere Heated Up Before Japan Quake, NASA Data Suggests

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New data released by NASA shows that the atmosphere above eastern Japan was flooded with electrons and heated dramatically in the days before the devastating March 11 earthquake.

According to scientists from the Goddard Space Flight Center, the total electron content in the ionosphere over the quake’s epicenter spiked significantly in the days before the earthquake, reaching a peak three days before the 9.0 quake.

Meanwhile, satellite measurements showed a steep increase in infrared emissions above the epicenter in the hours before the quake, possibly suggesting that large amounts of radon were released as a consequence of increased stresses in a geological fault.

The radioactivity of the radon apparently ionized the atmosphere on a massive scale, triggering increased condensation of water. In turn, that condensation released heat that caused a spike in infrared emissions.

These observations support a long-held theory that suggests that in the days and hours before large earthquakes, radon being released from underground activity can unleash detectable changes in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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