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Could the lives of the L’Aquila earthquake victims been saved?

The Gran Sasso National Laboratory (credit: LNGS)

By Michael Banks

Researchers at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in central Italy are best known for their experiments that are designed to study the properties of neutrinos and search for dark matter.

The underground lab, however, also lies around 20 kilometres away from the town of L’Aquila, which was hit by an earthquake in the early hours of Monday morning. Measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, the earthquake has so far killed over 200 people. But there are reports saying that Giampaolo Giuliani, a physicist based at Gran Sasso, predicted the earthquake would happen more than a month ago.

Predicting earthquakes is a tricky business as a feature we ran in January points out. But developing a system that could predict when and where they happen, although being a pipe dream at the moment, could save thousands of lives per year.

Reports yesterday say Giuliani predicted the earthquake would happen after nearby sensors picked up excess radon gas escaping from the ground last month.

There is, however, no reliable proof that radon emitted by smaller tremors could be used to predict an earthquake. Guiliani was also apparently told to remove videos and information from the internet warning that an earthquake could hit the region.

Physics World is currently looking into the full details of Guiliani’s story, so stay posted for updates.

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  1. Giuliani is not a physicist. He works at Gran Sasso National Laboratory of Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (National Institute of Nuclear Physics) as a technician. Yesterday he was on TV where he claimed to have realized a new apparatus that is able to do neatly good previsions through radon emissions improving with respect what scientific community knows as a non reliable forerunner. So, he is substantially an outsider but until the scientific community will not scrutiny in depth his claims, a government cannot take a decision based just on that.

  2. Giuliani, indeed a technician and not a physicist, never predicted an earthquake on April 6 in L’Aquila, but gave warnings for an earthquake on March 29 in Sulmona, a city 60 km far. There ‘s never been any warning of the time and place of the destructive earthquake, which was that destructive because of the poor quality of the buildings in the city (and the responsibility lies entirely with the politicians who allowed this to happen, by authorizing non seismic constructions and falsifying papers). it s just another sad Italian melodramma.

  3. ausloos

    is this a joke ?
    Science 7 July 1995: Vol. 269. no. 5220, pp. 60 – 61
    DOI: 10.1126/science.269.5220.60
    Ground-Water Radon Anomaly Before the Kobe Earthquake in Japan
    G. Igarashi, S. Saeki, N. Takahata, K. Sumikawa, S. Tasaka, Y. Sasaki, M. Takahashi, and Y. Sano

  4. Ender

    That’s no joke. The so called radon anomaly as a precursor of earthquakes has been know at least since the 1970’s to my knowledge. The trouble is that it’s still difficult to know how long will it take for the earthquake to happen after the observation, and where exactly will it occur. It seems to be a hint in the right direction, though, and will probably be useful in the future.


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