The VAN method – named after P. Varotsos, K. Alexopoulos and K. Nomicos, authors of the 1981 papers describing it – measures suspected "seismic electric signals" (SES), by which Varotsos and several colleagues claim to have successfully predicted earthquakes in Greece. Both the method itself and the manner by which successful predictions are claimed have been severely criticized; the International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting for Civil Protection declared: "subsequent testing has failed to validate the optimistic SES prediction capability claimed by the authors". The VAN method was revised in 2001, and this new method has been independently reproduced. It awaits further independent verification.
Description of the VAN method
Prediction of earthquakes with this method is based on the detection, recording and evaluation of seismic electric signals or SES. These electrical signals have a fundamental frequency component of 1 Hz or less and an amplitude proportional to the magnitude of the earthquake. According to the VAN team SES are emitted by rocks under the stress caused by plate-tectonic forces. There are three types of reported electric signal:
- Electric signals that occur at the same time as a major earthquake. Signals of this type were recorded 6.5 hours before the 1996 Kobe earthquake in Japan, for example.
- Electric signals that occur some time before a major earthquake.
- A gradual variation in the Earth's electric field some time before an earthquake.
There are several hypotheses put forth to explain SES:
- Stress-related phenomena: Seismic electric signals are perhaps attributed to the piezoelectric behaviour of some minerals, especially quartz, or to effects related to the behaviour of crystallographic defects under stress or strain. These may appear a few weeks before an earthquake, when the mechanical stress reaches a critical value. The generation of electric signals by minerals under high stress leading to fracture has been confirmed with laboratory experiments.
- Thermoelectric phenomena: Alternately, Chinese researchers proposed a mechanism which relies on the thermoelectric effect in magnetite.
- Groundwater phenomena: Three mechanisms have been proposed relying on the presence of groundwater in generating SES. The electrokinetic effect is associated with the motion of groundwater during a change in pore pressure. The seismic dynamo effect is associated with the motion of ions in groundwater relative to the geomagnetic field as a seismic wave creates displacement. Circular polarization would be characteristic of the seismic dynamo effect, and this has been observed both for artificial and natural seismic events. A radon ionization effect, caused by radon release and then subsequent ionization of material in groundwater, may also be active. The main isotope of radon is radioactive with a half-life of 3.9 days, and the nuclear decay of radon is known to have an ionizing effect on air. Hundreds of publications have reported increased radon concentration in the vicinity of active tectonic faults a few weeks prior to strong seismic events. A strong correlation between radon anomalies and seismic events has not been demonstrated definitively.
While the electrokinetic effect may be consistent with signal detection tens or hundreds of kilometers away, the other mechanisms require a second mechanism to account for propagation:
- Signal transmission along faults: In one model, the seismic electric signals propagate with relatively low attenuation along the tectonic faults, due to the increased electrical conductivity caused either by the intrusion of ground water in them or by the ionic characteristics of the minerals.
- Rock circuit: In the defect model, the presence of charge carriers and holes can be modeled as making an extensive circuit.
Seismic electric signals are detected at stations which consist of pairs of electrodes (oriented NS and EW) inserted into the ground, with amplifiers and filters. The signals are then transmitted to the headquarters of the VAN team in Athens where they are recorded and evaluated. The VAN stations have a degree of spatial selectivity. For example the station IOA, located near Ioannina, detects seismic electric signals which correspond to tectonic activity in Western Peloponnese and the Ionian Sea, while it does not detect signals related to tectonic activity around Ioannina. Currently the VAN team operates 9 stations, while in the past (1999) they could afford up to 17.
The VAN team claimed that they were able to predict earthquakes of magnitude larger than 5, with an uncertainty of 0.7 units of magnitude, within a radius of 100 km, and in a 2-hour to 11-day time window. Several papers confirmed this success rate, but the earthquake sample size was too small to make a statistically significant conclusion. For example, there were eight M ≥ 5.5 earthquakes in Greece from January 1, 1984 through September 10, 1995, and the VAN network forecast six of these.
The VAN method has also been used in Japan, but in early attempts success was "difficult" to attain. A preliminary study of sites for investigation of seismic electric signals in France was abandoned based on criticism of the first VAN method.
Earthquake prediction using "natural time" analysis
||This section may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may only interest a specific audience. (May 2013)|
Since 2001 the VAN team has tried to improve the accuracy of the estimation of the time of the forthcoming earthquake. Their new method involves the introduction of the concept of natural time, a time series analysis technique which puts weight on a process based on the ordering of events. They define a variance term κ in the time series analysis. Their current method detects SES as valid when κ = 0.070. That is the first part of their protocol. Once the SES are deemed valid, a second analysis is started. All the seismic (not electric) events are now noted, and the region is divided up as a Venn diagram with at least two seismic events per overlapping rectangle. When the distribution of κ for the rectangular regions has its maximum at κ = 0.070, the critical seismic event is imminent, and a prediction is issued.
Here is a brief introduction to the analysis. Two terms, χ and Q, characterize each event. χ is defined as k/N, where k is an integer (the k-th event) and N is the total number of events in the time sequence of data. Q is the energy released for each event. A related term, p, is the ratio Q/Q(total), and describes the fractional energy released. They introduce a critical term κ, defined as κ = [ Σ p(k) (k/N)^2 ] − [ Σ (k/N) p(k) ]^2, where κ is the variance in natural time, k is the event index, N is the number of events, Σ signifies summation, for k = 1 to N, and p(k) is the fractional quantity of energy for the k-th event. This variance puts extra weight on the energy term, p(k).
The VAN team claims to have successfully predicted twenty five of the 28 major earthquakes from 2001 through 2010 in the region of latitude N 36° to N 41° and longitude E 19° to E 27° with this new method. Predictions are part of papers housed in arXiv, and new predictions are currently being made and uploaded there. A description of the updated VAN method was collected in a book published by Springer in 2011, titled "Natural Time Analysis: The New View of Time."
Criticisms of VAN
Currently, the major criticism of the VAN method is that results have not yet been replicated by scientists outside the research groups in Greece and Japan. Testing of the method needs to be done by scientists unrelated to these two groups. Independent verification is a standard protocol in science.
Historically, the usefulness of the VAN method for prediction of earthquakes had been a matter of debate. Both positive and negative criticism on an older conception of the VAN method is summarized in the 1996 book "A Critical Review of VAN", edited by Sir James Lighthill. A critical review of the statistical methodology was published by Y. Y. Kagan of UCLA in 1997. Note that these criticisms predate the time series analysis methods introduced by the VAN group in 2001. The main points of the criticism were:
- Predictive success: VAN has claimed to have observed at a recording station in Athens a perfect record of a one-to-one correlation between SESs and earthquake of magnitude ≥ 2.9 which occurred 7 hours later in all of Greece. However, it was later shown that the list of earthquake used for the correlation was false. Although VAN stated in their article that the list of earthquakes was that of the Bulletin of the National Observatory of Athens (NOA), it was found that 37% of the earthquakes actually listed in the bulletin, including the largest one, were not in the list used by VAN for issuing their claim. In addition, 40% of the earthquake which VAN claimed had occurred were not in the NOA bulletin. Examining the probability of chance correlation of 22 claims of successful predictions by VAN of M > 4.0 from January 1, 1987 through November 30, 1989  it was found that 74% were false, 9% correlated by chance, and for 14% the correlation was uncertain. No event correlated at a probability greater than 85%, whereas the level required in statistics for accepting a hypothesis test as positive would more commonly be 95%.
- Proposed SES propagation mechanism: An analysis of the propagation properties of SES in the Earth’s crust showed that it is impossible that signals with the amplitude reported by VAN could have been generated by small earthquakes and transmitted over the several hundred kilometers distances from the epicenter to the receiving station. In effect, if the mechanism is based on piezoelectricity or electrical charging of crystal deformations with the signal traveling along faults, then none of the earthquakes which VAN claimed were preceded by SES generated an SES themselves. There is also some doubt that phenomena of rock physics seen in the laboratory can be assumed to take place in the Earth’s seismogenic crust.
- Electromagnetic compatibility issues: VAN’s publications are further weakened by not addressing the problem of eliminating the many and strong sources of change in the magneto-electric field measured by them, such as telluric currents from weather, and electromagnetic interference (EMI) from man-made signals. One critical paper clearly correlates an SES used by the VAN group with digital radio transmissions made from a military base.
- Scientific reporting: Most importantly, the method is hindered by a lack of statistical testing of the validity of their hypothesis, by changing the parameters of the hypothesis constantly (the moving goal post technique).
- Public policy: Finally, one requirement for any earthquake prediction method is that, in order for any prediction to be useful, it has to predict a forthcoming earthquake with a reasonable accuracy with respect to timeframe, epicenter and magnitude. Otherwise, if the prediction is too vague, no feasible decision (such as to evacuate the population of a certain area for a given period of time) can be made. Errors of location for the VAN technique were less than or equal to 100 km, within a 2-hour to 11-day time frame, and of M > 5, with an uncertainty in M of < 0.7, all useful parameters – so this criticism seems unfounded. In practice, the VAN group issued a series of telegrams in the 1980s, warning of impending earthquakes that did not occur, or did not occur within the parameters listed in the telegrams, or missed major earthquakes.
Inaccurate predictions of the earlier VAN method led to public criticism. The risk associated with false alarms has generated much ill will. Major opponents of VAN were the Greek seismologists Vassilis Papazachos and G. Stavrakakis. The debate between Papazachos and the VAN team has repeatedly caused public attention in their home country Greece and has been extensively discussed in the Greek media.
- Varotsos, Alexopoulos & Nomicos 1981a, 1981b. Varotsos & Alexopoulos 1984 and Mulargia & Gasperini 1992 (pp. 32, 36) cite a paper – "Electric signals predicting earthquakes" – by the same authors said to be have been presented at the 1981 4th International Conference on Basement Tectonics, but the record shows no such paper. See also Kagan 1997, §3.3.1, p. 512.
- Varotsos & Kuhlanek 1993 (preface to a special edition about VAN); Varotsos, Alexopoulos & Lazaridou 1993. See also Geller 1997, §8.2.
- Mulargia & Gasperini 1992; Lighthill 1996 (proceedings of a conference that reviewed VAN); Geller 1997, §4.5; and twenty articles in a special issue of Geophysical Research Letters (table of contents).
- ICEF 2011, p. 335.
- Uyeda, Kamogawa & Tanaka 2009.
- Varotsos, Alexopoulos & Nomicos 1981a; Varotsos et al. 1981; Varotsos, Alexopoulos & Nomicos 1982.
- Varotsos, Alexopoulos & Lazaridou 1993.
- Matsumoto, Ikeya & Yamanaka 1998.
- Varotsos et al. 1986, p. 120.
- Hadjicontis et al. 2007; Hadjicontis, Eftaxias & Varotsos 1988.
- Shen et al. 2011.
- Gershenzon, Gokhberg & Yunga 1993.
- Honkura et al. 2009.
- Pulinets 2007.
- ICEF 2011, p. 334.
- Varotsos et al. 1998.
- Freund 1998.
- Varotsos & Lazaridou 1991.
- Hamada 1993.
- Uyeda 1996.
- Uyeda, Kamogawa & Tanaka 2009.
- Utada 1993, p. 153.
- Maron et al. 1993.
- Varotsos, Sarlis & Skordas 2002; Varotsos 2006.
- Varotsos, Sarlis & Skordas 2011, Chapter 7.
- Varotsos, Sarlis & Skordas 2011, p. 326.
- Varotsos, Sarlis & Skordas 2011.
- Lighthill 1996.
- Kagan 1997, p. 512.
- Varotsos, Alexopoulos & Nomicos 1981b.
- Wyss 1996a.
- Varotsos & Lazaridou 1991.
- Wyss & Allmann 1996.
- Bernard 1992; Bernard & LeMouel 1996.
- Pham et al. 1998.
- Mulargia & Gasperini 1992; Mulargia & Gasperini 1996; Wyss 1996b.
- Hamada 1993.
- Mulargia & Geller 2003, p. 318.
- Bernard, P. (1992), "Plausibility of long distance electrotelluric precursors to earthquakes", Journal of Geophysical Research 97: 17531–17546, Bibcode:1992JGR....9717531B, doi:10.1029/92JB01215.
- Bernard, P.; LeMouel, J. (1996), "On electrotelluric signals", in Sir James Lighthill, A Critical Review of VAN – Earthquake Prediction from Seismic Electrical Signals, London, UK: World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd, pp. 118–154, ISBN 978-981-02-2670-1.
- Freund, F. (1998), "Pre-earthquake signals – Part II: Flow of battery currents in the crust", Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 7: 543–548, doi:10.5194/nhess-7-543-2007.
- Geller, Robert J. (December 1997), "Earthquake prediction: a critical review.", Geophysical Journal International 131 (3): 425–450, Bibcode:1997GeoJI.131..425G, doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.1997.tb06588.x.
- Gershenzon, N.; Gokhberg, M.; Yunga, S. (1993), "On the electromagnetic field of an earthquake focus", Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 77 (1-2): 13–19, Bibcode:1993PEPI...77...13G, doi:10.1016/0031-9201(93)90030-D.
- Hadjicontis, V.; Eftaxias, K.; Varotsos, P. (1988), "Thermodynamic properties of defects in crystals calculated on the basis of the bulk elastic data", Phys. Rev. B 37 (8): 4265–4266, Bibcode:1988PhRvB..37.4265H, doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.37.4265.
- Hadjicontis, V.; Mavromatou, C.; Antsygina, T.; Chishko, K. (2007), "Mechanism of electromagnetic emission in plastically deformed ionic crystals", Phys. Rev. B 76 (2): 024106, Bibcode:2007PhRvB..76b4106H, doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.76.024106.
- Hamada, K. (August 1993), "Statistical evaluation of the SES predictions issued in Greece: alarm and success rates", Tectonophysics 224 (1-3): 203–210, Bibcode:1993Tectp.224..203H, doi:10.1016/0040-1951(93)90073-S.
- Honkura, Y.; Ogawa, Y.; Matsushima, M.; Nagaoka, S.; Ujihara, N.; Yamawaki, T. (October 2009), "A model for observed circular polarized electric fields coincident with the passage of large seismic waves", Journal of Geophysical Research 114: B10103, Bibcode:2009JGRB..11410103H, doi:10.1029/2008JB006117.
- International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting for Civil Protection (30 May 2011), "Operational Earthquake Forecasting: State of Knowledge and Guidelines for Utilization", Annals of Geophysics 54 (4): 315–391, doi:10.4401/ag-5350.
- Kagan, Y. (December 1997), "Special section-assessment of schemes for earthquake prediction; Are earthquakes predictable?", Geophysical Journal International 131 (3): 505–525, Bibcode:1997GeoJI.131..505K, doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.1997.tb06595.x.
- Lazaridou-Varotsos, M. (2013), Earthquake Prediction by Seismic Electric Signals: The Success of the VAN method over thirty years, Springer-Praxis, doi:10.1007/978-3-642-24406-3, ISBN 978-3-642-24405-6.
- Lighthill, Sir James, ed. (1996), A Critical Review of VAN – Earthquake Prediction from Seismic Electrical Signals, London, UK: World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd, ISBN 978-981-02-2670-1.
- Maron, C.; Baubron, G.; Herbreteau, L.; Massinon, B. (August 1993), "Experimental study of a VAN network in the French Alps", Tectonophysics 224 (1-3): 51–81, Bibcode:1993Tectp.224...51M, doi:10.1016/0040-1951(93)90058-R.
- Matsumoto, H.; Ikeya, M.; Yamanaka, C. (1998), "Analysis of barber-pole color and speckle noises recorded 6 and a half hours before the Kobe earthquake", Japanese Journal of Applied Physics 37 (1): L1409–L1411, Bibcode:1998JaJAP..37L1409M, doi:10.1143/JJAP.37.L1409.
- Mulargia, F.; Gasperini, P. (July 1992), "Analyzing the statistical validity of earthquake precursors. An application to the "VAN" method", Geophysical Journal International 110 (1): 32–44.
- Mulargia, F.; Gasperini, P. (1996), "Behind VAN: Tectonic stress changes or earthquake induced alertness?", in Sir James Lighthill, A Critical Review of VAN – Earthquake Prediction from Seismic Electrical Signals, London, UK: World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd, pp. 244–249, ISBN 978-981-02-2670-1.
- Mulargia, F.; Geller, R. (2003), Earthquake Science and Seismic Risk Reduction, Springer, ISBN 978-1402017773.
- Pham, V.; Boyer, D.; Chouliaras, G.; Le Mouël, J.; Rossignol, J.; Stavrakakis, G. (June 1998), "Characteristics of electromagnetic noise in the Ioannina region (Greece); a possible origin for so called 'Seismic Electric Signal' (SES)", Geophysical Research Letters 25 (12): 2229–2232, Bibcode:1998GeoRL..25.2229P, doi:10.1029/98GL01593.
- Pulinets, S. (May 2007), "Natural radioactivity, earthquakes, and the ionosphere", Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 88 (20): 217–218, Bibcode:2007EOSTr..88..217P, doi:10.1029/2007EO200001.*Shen, X.; Zhang, X.; Wang, L.; Chen, H.; Wu, Y.; Yuan, S.; Shen, J.; Zhao, S.; Qian, J.; Ding, J. (2011), "The earthquake-related disturbances in ionosphere and project of the first China seismo-electromagnetic satellite", Earthquake Science 24 (6): 639–650, Bibcode:2011EaSci..24..639S, doi:10.1007/s11589-011-0824-0 .
- Utada, H. (August 1993), "On the physical background of the VAN earthquake prediction method", Tectonophysics 224 (1-3): 153–160, Bibcode:1993Tectp.224..153U, doi:10.1016/0040-1951(93)90067-T.
- Uyeda, S. (1996), "Introduction to the VAN method of earthquake prediction", in Sir James Lighthill, A Critical Review of VAN – Earthquake Prediction from Seismic Electrical Signals, London, UK: World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd, ISBN 978-981-02-2670-1.
- Uyeda, S.; Kamogawa, M.; Tanaka, H. (February 2009), "Analysis of electrical activity and seismicity in the natural time domain for the volcanic-seismic swarm activity in 2000 in the Izu Island region, Japan", Journal Geophysical Research 114 (B2): B02310, Bibcode:2009JGRB..11402310U, doi:10.1029/2007JB005332.
- Varotsos, P. (2006), "What happened before the last five strong earthquakes in Greece", Proc. Jpn. Acad. Ser. B 82 (2): 86–91, Bibcode:2006PJAB...82...86V, doi:10.2183/pjab.82.86.
- Varotsos, P.; Alexopoulos, K.; Lazaridou, M. (1993), "Latest aspects of earthquake prediction in Greece based on seismic electric signals, II", Tectonophysics 224: 1–37, Bibcode:1993Tectp.224....1V, doi:10.1016/0040-1951(93)90055-O.
- Varotsos, P.; Alexopoulos, K.; Nomicos, K. (1981a), "Seismic electric currents", Proceedings of the Academy of Athens 56: 277–286.
- Varotsos, P.; Alexopoulos, K.; Nomicos, K. (1981b), "Seven-hour precursors to earthquakes determined from telluric currents,", Praktika of the Academy of Athens 56: 417–433.
- Varotsos, P.; Alexopoulos, K.; Nomicos, K. (1982), "Electrotelluric precursors to earthquakes", Proceedings of the Academy of Athens 57: 341–363.
- Varotsos, P.; Alexopoulos, K.; Nomicos, K.; Lazaridou, M. (1986), "Earthquake prediction and electric signals", Nature 322 (6075): 120, Bibcode:1986Natur.322..120V, doi:10.1038/322120a0.
- Varotsos, P.; Alexopoulos, K.; Nomicos, K.; Papaioannou, G.; Varotsos, M.; Revelioti-Dologlou, E. (1981), "Determination of the epicenter of impending earthquakes from precursor changes of the telluric current", Proceedings of the Academy of Athens 56: 434–446.
- Varotsos, P.; Kuhlanek, P. (August 1993), "Preface [to special issue: "Measurements and Theoretical Models of the Earth’s Electric Field Variations Related to Earthquakes"]", Tectonophysics 224 (1-3): vii–viii.
- Varotsos, P.; Lazaridou, M. (March 1991), "Latest aspects of earthquake prediction in Greece based on seismic electric signals", Tectonophysics 188 (3-4): 321–347, Bibcode:1991Tectp.188..321V, doi:10.1016/0040-1951(91)90462-2.
- Varotsos, P.; Sarlis, N.; Lazaridou, M.; Kapiris, P. (1998), "Transmission of stress induced electric signals", Journal of Applied Physics 83: 60–70, Bibcode:1998JAP....83...60V, doi:10.1063/1.366702.
- Varotsos, P.; Sarlis, N.; Skordas, E. (2002), "Long-range correlations in the electric signals that precede rupture", Physical Review E 66 (011902).
- Varotsos, P.; Sarlis, N.; Skordas, E. (2011), Natural time analysis : the new view of time ; Precursory seismic electric signals, earthquakes and other complex time series, Springer Praxis, ISBN 364216448-X.
- Wyss, M. (May 1996a), "Inaccuracies in seismicity and magnitude data used by Varotsos and coworkers", Geophysical Research Letters 23 (11): 1299–1302, Bibcode:1996GeoRL..23.1299W, doi:10.1029/95GL03545.
- Wyss, M. (1996b), "Brief summary of some reasons why the VAN hypothesis for predicting earthquakes has to be rejected", in Sir James Lighthill, A Critical Review of VAN – Earthquake Prediction from Seismic Electrical Signals, London, UK: World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd, pp. 250–266, ISBN 978-981-02-2670-1.
- Wyss, M.; Allmann, A. (May 1996), "Probability of chance correlations of earthquakes with predictions in areas of heterogeneous seismicity rate: the VAN case", Geophysical Research Letters 23 (11): 1307–1310, Bibcode:1996GeoRL..23.1307W, doi:10.1029/95GL03548.
- The News and Analysis section of the April 1998 issue of Scientific American discussed Varotsos and the VAN method ("On shaky ground").
- Nature debates. Is the reliable prediction of individual earthquakes a realistic scientific goal?
- VAN earthquake prediction method.
- P. Varotsos' bibliography (the principal source of "VAN" papers).