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Lincolnshire lightning: Earthquake earthlights?
Interesting reports emerge from the recent Lincolnshire earthquake which suggest a close link with strange luminous phenomena. Mysterious types of lightning were seen by people in Louth during Wednesday's earthquake. A woman in Westgate said she saw what she thought was ball lightning as the earthquake rumbled through Louth.
Elvira Witney said: "I experienced it at the exact time of the earthquake."
"This thing seemed to be coming across the room straight at me. I was very frightened."
Mrs Witney described it as a grapefruit-sized glowing sphere that went out like a light.She saw it in her ground floor bedroom as she felt the earthquake but there was no damage to show where it had come from.A ball lightning expert is unsure how it could have ventured inside but we do often hear about such things. There were other sightings. A second lightning sighting came from Jean Howard, of Tathwell, a curator at Louth Museum. Mrs Howard said she saw a flash of lightning over the Wolds as the earthquake hit.
She said: "My initial thought as I'd just woken was that what I was hearing could be a thunder storm. "As the rumbling and shaking continued I was quite aware it was an earthquake."
Given that the quake was 5.2, this would be generally consistent with the range you can find causing earthlights, which, although more common around 6 or 7, can occur down to around a magnitude of 4.5. However, I would have been interested in more data - like the duration and the colour.
Earthlights come up in connection with UFOs and various ideas have been put forward to explain their origins and nature. Paul Devereux has been one of the leading proponents of earthlights (and coined the name) and one of the theories he supports is along the lines of Persinger's Tectonic Strain Theory, as described by the BBC:
Mr Devereux has drawn on the work of controversial Canadian academic Michael Persinger and believes many unresolved UFO sightings can be explained by "earthlights", clouds of plasma being charged by strong electromagnetic fields occurring in areas of seismic activity. However, some of the cases Persinger examined have been re-examined and found lacking in the Uintah Basin and the Yakima Reservation (Hunt for the Skinwalker and Examining The Earthlight Theory, respectively - the latter being another Hotspot of High Strangeness that I will return to), both statistically, because of the complexity of the evidence (for example, in the latter case they stripped out reports that didn't fit their ideas of what earthlights should be) and the problems with the mechanism (only one Yakima quake was over a magnitude of 3 and most were below 2). This suggests there are still problems with such an analysis and we should examine such claims as closely as we do less natural theories. Despite my geological leanings and hunch that something along these lines could be at work, the science needs to measure up and currently it isn't.
Earthquakes are the only natural disasters that scientists are unable to predict with any reliability. Institutions like the US Geological Survey (USGS) monitor the strain in the Earth’s surface through movement sensors in the ground and, together with historical records of seismological activity, they can usually forecast the long-term prospects of earthquakes occurring in active regions, typically within a period of 30 years. Predictions, which need to specify the exact time, place and magnitude of an impending tremor, have proved hard to come by. Part of the problem is that seismologists do not have a clear picture of how the ground fractures. Although the study of plate tectonics has allowed researchers to isolate the most quake-prone regions, the current thinking is that each tiny fracture in the Earth’s crust spreads in a chaotic fashion. This means that it is difficult to say which cracks will stop short, and which will rupture into an Earth-shattering event. Most seismologists believe that impending earthquakes send no reliable warning signals.
Freund has a different opinion. Deep down in the crushing boundaries between the Earth’s tectonic plates — where earthquakes form — the conditions are far from normal. As the plates struggle to grind past each other, the stresses grow until the plates finally slip with a devastating release of energy. Freund thinks that this huge stress build-up prior to an earthquake can flood the surrounding rock with electric charge. Indeed, he believes that in the hours or days before an earthquake the ground could brim with so much charge that it generates a host of visible effects above the surface, such as infra-red emissions and vivid corona discharges. These electromagnetic phenomena could be earthquake precursors.
Freund believes that his discovery can explain some of the bizarre events that are said to signal an imminent earthquake, such as eerie lights and strange animal behaviour. In 1966 in Matsushiro, Japan, ghostly lights were photographed during a string of tremors. Last year in the UK, following a moderately strong earthquake that rippled through the small Lincolnshire town of Market Rasen, The Times reported one frightened woman’s account of a “grapefruit-sized glowing sphere” that materialized in her bedroom and floated towards her, and others who claimed to have seen lightning flashes even though there were no storms.
In the winter of 1975 in Haicheng, China, there were widespread reports of peculiar animal behaviour: dogs growing very agitated; cattle running amok; and even snakes suddenly waking up from hibernation only to die because of the freezing conditions. Encouraged by seismologists who had also started registering an increase in low-amplitude seismic activity, the authorities decided to evacuate the region. A couple of days later, a quake with a magnitude of 7.3 struck the region, killing over 2000 people. That figure could have been 100 times higher had the population not been evacuated.