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Measuring Ion Currents and Electric Fields Caused by Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Lightning in the Mesosphere

Brian Shiro , Friedemann Freund

1,2 3,4,5

, Yvonne Cagle , Stuart Pilorz , Phillip Hollis-Watts , Chris Windsor

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1. NOAA Paci c Tsunami Warning Center, 2. Astronauts4Hire, 3. NASA Ames Research Center, 4. SETI Institute, 5. San Jos State University, 6. Western Australian School of Mines Contact:

Days before major earthquakes multiple processes occur around future epicenters: (i) the air becomes highly ionized, (ii) electromagnetic waves are emitted over a wide frequency range, (iii) thermal infrared anomalies, etc [1-4]. The air ionization a ects the vertical electric eld throughout the atmospheric column. We predict an upward drift of positive ions through the mesosphere toward the ionosphere. We predict that this ion current will break up and create electric eld variations in the mesosphere, which lead to electric eld ripples in the ionosphere and to mesospheric lightning discharges. The lightning will not be vertical like sprites but mostly horizontal. Above plinian volcanic eruptions similar processes, di erent in detail, are expected to occur. Understanding this is important for earthquake forecasting and mesospheric physics. A variety of platforms can be used, including suborbital vehicles, to advance this emerging eld of science.

Satellite Measurements
7 anomalies detected by DEMETER and GPS satellites
DEMETER (Detection of Electro-Magnetic Emissions Transmitted from Earthquake Regions) was a French satellite in polar circular orbit that operated from June 2004 to Dec 2010. Its purpose was to search for pre-seismic EM signals in the ionosphere including TEC, electric elds, and electron/ion density and temperature. DEMETER detected anomalies interpreted as plasma turbulence 1-10 days prior to major earthquakes including the Oct 2004 Japan (M6.7), Dec 2006 Taiwan (M7.1), May 2008 China (M7.8), Jul 2009 New Zealand (M7.8), Apr 2009 Italy (M6.3), Sep 2009 Samoa (M8.1), and Jan 2010 Haiti (M7.0) events [9,10]. TEC variations prior to many of these and of other earthquakes, including Dec 2004 Sumatra (M9.2), Feb 2010 Chile (M8.8), and Mar 2011 Japan (M9.0), have been identi ed using GPS technology [11,12].

+ + + ++ + + + + + ++ + + + + + + + + + +++ increase in TEC

on lower edge of ionospheric plasma

Mechanism & E ects

The basic process is thought to be caused by positive hole charge carriers (h), which are stress-activated in the crust during the build-up tectonic stress prior to major earthquakes [5]. It has been experimentally demonstrated that common deep crustal rocks generate large numbers of h, which ow out of the stressed rock volume. They propagatefast to the Earths surface, where they create steep electric elds at the ground-to-air interface, enough to eld-ionize the air, most likely O2 --> O2+ + e-. The electrons dissipate into the ground, while the positive airborne ions rise up through the atmosphere. Often the airborne ions generated at the ground-to-air interface will be exclusively positive [6]. This creates a situation where we expect a highly and stably ionized air bubble to expand upward to stratospheric heights. Dragging along Earths ground potential, such air bubbles will change the vertical electric eld causing an increase in the total electron concentration (TEC) at the lower edge of the ionosphere [7]. Given the prevailing potential di erence between ground and ionosphere on the order of 250,000 V, we predict O2+ and O+ ions to be accelerated upward through the mesosphere, forming a distributed vertical ion current. Initially homogeneous, this vertical ion current is predicted to break up into globules of di erent ion densities, creating local E elds. These elds will lead to E eld ripples in the ionosphere, which will appear as ionospheric turbulences [10]. These E elds will also initiate lightning in the mesosphere. Contrary to sprites, which are gigantic vertical discharges, these lightning strikes will be more randomly distributed. A similar situation will arise above Plinian volcanic eruptions plumes. They inject SO2 into the stratosphere-mesosphere boundary, leading to upward accelerated SO2+, SO+ and S+ ions that create di erent conditions for electric discharges at di erent frequencies.

- - - - - - ---- - ----- - -- -- - - - - -- - - - - --- ---5 upward acceleration of positive air ions forms a distributed vertical ion current 100 km

Flight Opportunity
We propose sensors on suborbital vehicles measuring the vertical electron and ion density variations in the mesosphere. Using internal or external triaxial antennae tuned to di erent frequencies, well obtain information about the polarization of the EM emission from mesospheric lightning strikes. Issues pertaining to the RF and EM environment on the craft will have to be mitigated. Additionally, we consider multiple drop-o sensors to measure E eld pro les during free fall after ejection from a suborbital craft. Eventually, if point-to-point suborbital transport becomes possible, EM measuring sensors could become a standard payload on suborbital vehicles as they traverse long horizontal distances through the mesosphere. Besides XCORs Lynx, Virgin Galactics SpaceShipTwo, and Masten Space Systems Xaero, we are considering other suitable high altitude platforms such as balloon, sounding rockets, NASAs SOFIA airplane, and Northrop Grummans Global Hawk.

8 non-uniform charge densities result in mostly horizontal electric discharges in the mesosphere

O2+ O2




O2+ O

3 air ionization

Ground Measurements
Evidence for bursts of millisec discharges in the mesosphere over regions of impending earthquake activity in Australia, Indonesia and the South Paci c and over active volcanoes undergoing Plinian eruptions has been obtained by Hollis-Watts at Perth, Australia, using a directional antenna recording signals over the 10 kHz to 1.3 GHz frequency range [8]. The short duration of the EM signals and their polarization are consistent with primarily horizontal mesospheric lightning strikes.

O2+ + O + O2 2 O2+ O2+ O2+ O2+ O + O2+ 2 2 + O2 O2+ + + O2 tive osi ace O2+ O +O2 p f + 2 sur rge O2+O2 O2+ + cha O2+ + ++ + + + +++ + + O2

O2+ O + 2 O2+ O2+ O2+ O2+ O+


4 SO2 injection also leads to upward acceleration of ions SO2 SO2 SO2 SO2


In addition to Spaceport USA, candidate study areas include the proposed spaceports in Sweden, Curaao, and Dubai due to their proximity to active volcanic areas or, in the case of Dubai, to a large iongenerating antenna array on the ground that could provide an excellent control source for these innovative experiments [13].

[1] Kuo, C.L., et al. (2011). Ionosphere plasma bubbles and density variations induced by pre-earthquake rock currents and associated surface charges. J. Geophys. Res., 116, A10317. [2] Heki, K. (2011). Ionospheric enhancement preceding the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L17312. [3] Liu, J.Y., et al. (2004). Pre-earthquake iono-spheric anomalies registered by continuous GPS TEC measurements. Ann. Geophys., 22, 1585-93. [4] Pulinets, S. and K. Boyarchuk (2004). Ionospheric Precursors of Earthquakes, 350 pp., Springer. [5] Freund, F. T. (2010). Towards a uni ed solid state theory for preearthquake signals. Acta Geophys., 58, 719-766. [6] Freund, F.T., et al. (2009). Air ionization at rock surface and pre-earthquake signals. J. Atmos. Solar Terr. Phys., 71, 18241834. [7] Harrison, R.G., et al. (2010). Atmospheric electricity coupling between earthquake regions and the ionosphere. J. Atmos. Solar Terr. Phys., 72, 376-381. [8] Pulinets, S., and P. Hollis-Watts (2003). P-H pulses the new type of seismoelectromagnetic emission, Geophy. Res. Abstr., 5, 07035. [9] Akhoondzadeh, M., et al. (2010). Electron and ion density variations before strong earthquakes (M>6.0) using DEMETER and GPS data, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 10, 7-18. [10] Bleki, J., et al. (2011). Plasma turbulence in the ionosphere prior to earthquakes, some remarks on the DEMETER registrations, J. Asian Earth Sci., 41, 450-458. [11] Liu, J.Y., et al. (2004). Pre-earthquake ionospheric anomalies registreted by continuous GPS TEC measurements, Ann. Geophys, 22, 1585-1593. [12] Heki, K. (2011). Ionospheric electron enhancement preceding the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L17312. [13]

9 P-H pulses detected as msec HF signals on ground

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1 tectonic stress buildup