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5,158-m-deep well to help forecast earthquake
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A 5,158-meter-deep well China drilled to get to know about the earth's crust could contribute to forecast earthquakes, said scientists.


"Researchers will be able to record the movements of liquid and gas which lie five kilometers underground. While drilling the well they have found abnormal movements related to earthquakes," said Xu Zhiqin, the chief scientist of the China Continental Scientific Drilling Engineering Center and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


The well is located at Maobei Village of Donghai, a county in the proximity of the port city of Lianyungang in northern Jiangsu Province, east China. The drilling operation started in 2001 and was completed in 2005. The exploration program cost a total of 166 million yuan (about US$22 million).


Maobei Village was selected as an ideal location of the well drilling as it is situated on the world's largest ultra-high-pressure metamorphic belt, known as the "Dabie-Sulu Mountain fracture belt" and described by geologists as "a natural research lab for the formation of plates and global geological changes".


According to Wang Da, chief commander for the continental scientific drilling program, an observation stand was built in the well, with a diameter of 156 millimeters, to facilitate long-term studies on the earth's in-depth secrets.


"We analyzed the gas data collected about 4,000 km underground before and after the great Sumatra Earthquake happened on Dec. 26, 2004. There were significant differences. It is possible that one day we could predict an earthquake by observations on underground gas," said Xu.


The island of Sumatra is more than 4,000 km away from Jiangsu Province.


Xu said workers had installed detectors in different depths during the drilling operation, which could not only help forecast earthquakes but also facilitate life science studies by observing microorganism deep down in the earth's crust.


Researchers would also be able to acquire data useful for studies on continental plate boundaries and substances in the layer of the earth between the crust and the core, she said.


The chief scientist said the continental scientific drilling program had passed national examinations. A five-km-deep well free of ground intruders is left for future research.


"We have set up the first long-term integrated geophysics research base in Asia. I hope it could serve the human being." said Xu.


Because of their devastating potential, there is great interest in predicting the location and time of large earthquakes. Although a great deal is known about where earthquakes are likely, there is currently no reliable way to predict the days or months when an event will occur in any specific location.


The Sumatra Earthquake, the greatest in 40 years, killed about 300,000 people after triggering a large tsunami which spread outward from off the Sumatran coast.


Earthquakes around the world killed about 1.2 million people in the 20th century, including 590,000 in China. The biggest disaster in the country is a 1976 quake that killed more than 242,000 in Tangshan, Hebei Province.


Statistics show 35 percent of earthquakes measuring seven and above on the Richter Scale in the world's continents occurred in China in the last century.


China will build an earthquake-proof system to correspond with the development of its cities, according to its 2006-2020 earthquake proof and relief plan.


Under the plan, the system will enable all areas in China to basically have the capability to cope with earthquakes measuring around six on the Richter Scale by 2020. Measures will also be taken to equip rural areas with both earthquake-proof facilities and knowledge in relief procedures.


Currently in rural areas earthquakes usually cause heavy economic loss and casualties due to a lack of earthquake-proof facilities and relief knowledge.


According to the plan, publicity of earthquake-proof and relief knowledge shall cover 40 percent of the population and 200,000 volunteers will be enrolled to work for earthquake-proof and relief efforts by 2010.


Material storage systems for disaster relief will be built and earthquake victims will be ensured of basic living and medical assistance within 24 hours of an earthquake.


(Xinhua News Agency December 16, 2007)


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