One of the things that bothers me about current scaremongering is that it always seems to be a very small influence that is supposed to cause a very large effect. So trace amounts of tobacco smoke in the atmosphere are supposed to pose a sufficiently dire threat to health to warrant it being banned almost everywhere. And trace amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are supposed to cause catastrophic global warming. And (my subject for today) the HAARP radio transmitter in Alaska is supposed by some people to be able to cause earthquakes.
And to my mind all these involve some degree of magical thinking, where by ‘magic’ I mean some sort of small influence (the waving of a wand and saying the words “Hey Presto!”) is supposed to have a large consequence (a rabbit comes out of the hat). And to my mind, weak, things like radio transmitters simply can’t cause earthquakes, because their influence is too small, and the supposed effect too great.
But then, I don’t know anything much about radio transmitters, and I don’t know much about seismology either. So maybe it actually is possible? Who am I to say that it can’t be done if I don’t know anything about either of these things?
Well, I might not understand radio transmitters or earthquake science, but I do understand simple physics, and so I’m going to try to use some simple physics to think about earthquakes and radio transmitters. And the little bit of physics I’m going to use is the formula for the work done (or energy expended) in lifting a mass M by a height H at the surface of the earth. And that amount of work is M.g.H – where g is the gravitational acceleration at the surface of the earth, 9.81 m/s^2. It’s called Potential Energy and it’s measured in Joules or Calories.
Now, I read somewhere that the earthquake in Virginia a few days back took place a kilometre underground, and so it must have lifted up something like a cubic kilometre of rock by some distance, because when people feel vibrations it’s because the ground is going up and down or side to side. And earthquakes don’t seem to lift things up and down by large distances, and so maybe the ground went up and down by one centimetre. How much work is needed to lift a cubic kilometre of rock one centimetre? Well, the density of granite is about 2,750 kg per cubic metre, and there are 109 cubic metres in a cubic kilometre, so plugging these values into the M.g.H formula gives 2750 x 109 x 9.81 x 0.01, which works out at 2.75 x 1011 Joules. And if the earthquake is doing this amount of work every second, that’s 2.75 x 1011 Joules/second. A joule/second is a Watt, and so this theoretical earthquake expends energy at the rate of 275 GW (gigawatts) . If it lasted for 20 seconds (like some people said it did), that works out at a total of 5.5 x 1012 Joules of energy expended.
So for the HAARP radio station in Alaska to cause an earthquake in Virginia, it would have to transmit a 275 gigawatt radio signal. Now I have no idea what the power of the HAARP transmitter might be (actually it’s given as 3,600 kW, and I’ve read that the BBC Radio 1 transmitter uses 1,250 kW), but I do know that the total installed electrical generating capacity of the USA is 995 GW (and the whole world is 4500 GW). So, supposing that the HAARP transmitter actually could beam that amount of energy somewhere, it would have used over a quarter of US capacity, and caused a brown-out across the USA.
And I’m only considering a small earthquake that lifts a cubic kilometre of rock by one centimetre. The March 11 Japan earthquake occurred at a depth of 35 km, and caused damage over a much larger area, and so was most likely over a million times more energetic than the Virginia one – about 275 million megawatts. But some people seem to think HAARP caused that one too.
Most likely, someone will say that the HAARP signals simply trigger earthquakes, and don’t actually do all the work themselves. A small signal somehow gets amplified (and funnily enough, it’s the same with carbon dioxide). But even if only a thousandth of its released energy is needed to trigger an earthquake, there are still colossal amounts of energy required, which are beyond the capacity of entire countries to generate, and even the entire world. And if it’s said that only trace amounts of energy are needed to trigger earthquakes, then I must cause a few whenever I get out of bed in the morning.
So I’d say that my intuition that HAARP radio signals can’t be being used to cause earthquakes is supported by a bit of simple science: the amounts of energy needed are simply far too large. And that’s without even asking how these huge amounts of energy can be beamed from Alaska to Virginia or Japan or wherever.
The amounts of energy used in natural processes like earthquakes are truly stupendous. Even something like a hurricane uses 200 times the world-wide electrical generating capacity.
Nevertheless plenty of people seem to be able to believe that it’s possible to use the 3.6 megawatt HAARP transmitter to generate 275 gigawatt (and larger) earthquakes. That’s a something-for-nothing power gain of about a million watts for every watt invested. It’s like winning a million quid on the lottery with a £1 ticket. The believers include infowars Alex Jones, among others.
But I think they’re engaging in magical thinking.
P.S. (As a check, the Virginia earthquake registered as 5.8 on the Richter scale, which is about 3 x 1013 Joules of energy released, so my figure of 5.5 x 1012 J wasn’t far out. The March 11 Japan quake was 9 on the Richter scale, which is 1018 J, and so indeed nearly a million times more energetic than the Virginia one.)