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Early Warning System For Earthquakes

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Virginia's summer earthquake came as a surprise to everyone, but Raúl Baragiola, a professor of engineering physics at the University of Virginia, says there's one possible way to detect quakes in advance.

"There are these reports that may be true or not that animals actually can detect it before it happens," says Baragiola.

Tremendous pressure had built up along the San Andreas Fault, and rocks deep underground were probably breaking. Baragiola knew that in the presence of a spark, an extra molecule could be added to oxygen, creating a gas called ozone. Animals may be especially sensitive to the stuff. Humans, for example, can smell it when lightning in a distant thunderstorm creates ozone.

So, Baragiola's team began breaking rocks in the lab, and making ozone. However, how much notice could we get from an ozone monitor?

"If you have even half a minute, that's enough to tell school children to go under the bench," he says. "You can save a lot of lives."


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