China is building a monitoring system that will help it predict earthquakes up to three weeks in advance, according to a story in the Global Times, a mouthpiece for China's Communist Party. The machinery will monitor for upcoming quakes by measuring "X-ray" or "CT scanners" which create an image of seismic activity.
"The real-time image generated from sensors will help the public forecast earthquake of magnitude above 5.0 as easily as reading a meteorological cloud image," the Global Times said.
The technology will first be implemented in China's Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in the country's southwest, where some of China's most devastating earthquakes have taken place. After that, it will then be rolled out across the country. Eventually, the sensors will be placed at 2,000 monitoring stations across the earthquake-prone region.
The equipment will monitor for "stress and energy dynamics" between eight and 20 kilometers underground, according to Dr Wang Tun. Typically, the most destructive quakes originate more than 8 kilometers below the earth's surface. While China already has an early earthquake warning system, it only covers 650 million people - about half the country's population - and can only detect quakes seconds before they occur by measuring so-called "P-waves". During one recent quake in Chengdu, the capitol of Sichuan province, citizens received messages on their mobile phones some 71 seconds beforehand.
Schools received the warnings some five to 38 seconds before the quake struck.
Eventually, the current EEW system and the new more advanced system will work in tandem, because the new monitoring system can't predict the exact timing of a quake, according to Wang.
"And it only can tell a rough location instead of an exact site where the earthquake will occur."
The first station for the new system was unveiled in Wenchuan, Sichuan this past week. The town was the epicenter of a 7.9 magnitude quake that killed 80,000 people back in 2008.