CHINA / National

Satellite to help predict earthquakes
By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-07-28 07:12

The launch of an earthquake-monitoring satellite is a key next step to help predict tremors using space technology, a senior space official said yesterday.

"We expect to develop a satellite specially to monitor electromagnetic changes on the Earth's surface by the end of 2010 after technological breakthroughs were made regarding its payload," Luo Ge, deputy chief of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), told China Daily in Beijing.

By closely monitoring electromagnetic disturbances in the ground and in the ionosphere the layer of the atmosphere at an altitude of more than 80 kilometres which many scientists believe may herald earthquakes, the experimental satellite is expected to detect precursor signals and make more reliable forecasts, Luo said.

The official, however, stressed that the move represents only one effort to tap the potential to predict imminent earthquakes, adding other measures should be combined with the space technology.

Earthquakes killed at least 1.5 million people over the past century, with one-third of the destructive temblors occurring in China, and claiming 55 per cent of the total deaths, according to an official release.

Compared with ground monitoring facilities, satellite sensors cover far larger swathes, and could gather more data faster, Luo said.

Speaking on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake in Hebei Province which killed at least 240,000 people, Luo said his agency had long been seeking to apply space technology to help mitigate losses caused by natural disasters.

Qian Xuesen, a founding father of China's space industry, proposed developing satellites with magnetic and infrared sensors to help predict earthquakes immediately after the Tangshan catastrophe, according to Luo.

"We never gave up the idea, and now, technically and economically, we are ready to start the project," Luo said.

If launched as planned during the next Five-Year Plan period (2011-15), China will join a select club of nations which remotely monitor magnetic changes to warn of earthquakes.
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