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Amended law to revive public quake study
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The revised Law on Precautions Against Earthquake and Relief of Disasters came into effect on May 1, 2009, reviving an enthusiasm for popular earthquake researchers with a new provision encouraging social organizations and individuals to monitor and take precautions against earthquake.

"I will never forecast earthquakes online again," said Mr. Dan, a Chongzhou resident who used to present his findings on earthquakes via the Internet under the pseudonym "Chengdu Ruoshan." With junior middle school education, Mr. Dan loves to research earthquakes. At the end of last year he claimed to have invented a device based on geomagnetism, which could predict earthquakes taking place within 48 hours. However, when he posted some of his earthquake predictions on the Internet, he was accused of spreading rumors.

Mr. Dan said he stopped posting earthquake predictions on the Internet after he learned it was illegal. "I have seldom updated my blog since, only posting one or two articles on geophysics," he said.

But now, with the amended law encouraging citizens to monitor earthquakes, Mr. Dan has rediscovered his passion for earthquake research. "Now that I know it's legal to privately monitor earthquakes, and since some experts agree with my theory, I will continue my research on earthquakes. However, I won't put my predictions online again," he said.

Mr. Dan continues to use the equipment he invented to monitor earthquake and record relevant data every day.

There are several grassroots experts like Mr. Dan on the Internet who are passionate about studying earthquakes. Among them, Xu Shubin from Shandong Province is said to be able to predict earthquakes based on the shape and color of clouds, and a Shanxi peasant surnamed Zhao is famous for predicting earthquakes by observing the skies with his naked eyes.

Some of these grassroots experts communicate with each other online. "I often discuss my experiences in earthquake prediction with Xu Shubin, and I sometimes post on Baidu to support his view," said Mr. Dan.

On the other hand, Mr. Dan doesn't think that all online earthquake experts are trustworthy. Concerning a net user from Yunnan Province who claimed to predict earthquake based on the Book of Change, Mr. Dan thinks his theory has no scientific basis.

Seismologists vote for mass-monitoring measures

China had mobilized the general public to monitor earthquakes following the Xingtai earthquake in Hebei in 1966. Afterwards, however, the practice faded out due to the establishment of a national seismic network. The work of mass-monitoring and identifying seismic risks returned to prominence following the devastating Wenchuan disaster last year.

According to seismologists, there are currently four popular prediction methods. Earthquakes can be predicted through the seismic geophysical method introduced from the western world, by measuring geostress, by studying the rules of earthquake behavior, or by observing proxy indicators of the geophysical field such as infrasonic waves, unusual animal behaviors, earthquake sound and earthquake light. Mass-monitoring works based on the last method to identify seismic hazards.

Cheng Wanzheng, a researcher at the Seismological Bureau of Sichuan Province, said mass-monitoring not only provides more information about earthquakes, but also raises the public consciousness about preventing seismic hazards. "We encourage citizens to report unusual phenomena to the local department in charge of countering seismic hazards," he said.

(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, May 6, 2009)

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