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3 megatons strike in central Italy April 6, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, science.
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A destructive earthquake has struck last night in central Italy, at 3.32AM in a mountainous region of the Appennini, close to the city of L’Aquila. The magnitude of the earthquake has been estimated at 6.3 on the Richter scale, for a release of energy equal to about 3 megatons of TNT (not 16 as I previously reported, which corresponds to 6.7 degrees in the Richter scale).

Many small towns close to the epicenter report more than half of the houses grounded. The biggest worries come from L’Aquila, which counts about 70,000 inhabitants; but many smaller towns scattered around in the mountainous region of the Abruzzi have certainly suffered major damage. There are reports of tens of dead bodies already extracted from the rubble. I will have updates here as soon as I gather more information.

UPDATE: while dead bodies continue to be drawn out from collapsed buildings, a disturbing detail emerges. It transpires that a researcher at the Gran Sasso national laboratories had predicted the event, and had warned that a disastrous seismic event would occur. Giampaolo Giuliani had recorded a large release of radon gas from the ground on March 29th, and had concluded that an earthquake would probably take place in the matter of hours. Giuliani had predicted the event would happen a week before it actually did, and on March 31st the head of civil protection Guido Bertolaso had bitterly criticized the prediction and “quegli imbecilli che si divertono a diffondere notizie false” (those imbeciles that enjoy diffusing false news). Giuliani is facing charges of causing a false alarm, but he was right after all.

UPDATE: here are a few excerpts from an interview given by Giampaolo Giuliani this morning:

“Se commento adesso c’e’ il rischio che a me domani mi mettono in galera. Allora, non e’ vero, e’ falso, che i terremoti non possono essere previsti. Sono quasi dieci anni che noi riusciamo a prevedere eventi nel raggio d’azione di 120-150 chilometri dai nostri rivelatori.”
“Sono tre giorni che vedevamo un forte incremento di Radon. I forti incrementi di Radon, al di fuori delle soglie di sicurezza, significano forti terremoti.”
“Anche la tecnologia classica avrebbe potuto prevederlo. Se qualcuno fosse stato a lavorare, ai posti dovuti, o se qualcuno si fosse preoccupato.”
“Questa notte anche la sala sismica si sarebbe potuto accorgere che sarebbe avvenuta una forte scossa. Il mio sismografo indicava una forte scossa di terremoto e ce l’avevamo online, tutti potevano osservarlo, e tanti lo hanno osservato e si sono resi conto che le scosse crescevano.”

(“If I comment now there is the risk that tomorrow I get imprisoned. Now: it is not true, it is false, that earthquakes cannot be predicted. We have been able to predict events for almost ten years in a range of 120-150 kilometers from our detectors.”

“In the last three days we saw a large increase of Radon. Large increases of Radon, above safety thresholds, mean strong earthquakes.”

“Even classic technology could have been used to predict it. If somebody had been working, at their place, or if somebody had gotten worried.”

“Tonight even the seismic room could have realized that a strong shake was going to happen. My seismograph indicated a strong earthquake and we had it online, everybody could watch it, and many did and realized that the tremors were increasing.”)

UPDATE: Michelangelo Ambrosio, a director of research of the INFN (national institute for nuclear physics) section in Napoli, thus defends the claims of Giuliani:

“trascurare con superficialita’ le applicazioni di nuove tecnologie solo perche’ proposte da ricercatori non appartenenti allo establishment preposto a tale funzione e’ una negligenza criminale di cui oggi paghiamo le conseguenze.”

(“Disregarding with superficiality the applications of new technologies only for the reason they are brought forward by researchers not belonging to the establishment addressing those functions is a criminal neglect of which today we all pay the consequences”.)

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Comments

1. zerocold - April 6, 2009

brutto da dire ma mi sa che questo è solo il preludio all’esplosione che cancellerà un milione di strutture abusive nell’area vesuviana, e il giorno dopo saremmo comunque e sempre a piangere i morti.

zero

2. Andrea Giammanco - April 6, 2009

Although I’m not an expert in geology, I got the impression by the interviews that I’ve read that this guy is a crackpot.
I might just have had “luck” (ok, not the best word since we are talking about a tragedy).

The correlation between radon emissions and earthquakes is not a new idea, a lot of geological literature has been produced and as far as I know it is, at best, just one of many marginally useful variables for earthquake prediction. Let’s say that it could be used in a Neural Network analysis, but it’s ridiculous to think that it alone can justify the mass displacement of tens of thousand of people for a vaguely determined period.
Moreover, some studies that I’ve found with google scholar seem to discredit the theory of correlation between radon emissions and earthquakes, at least for the regions monitored (which could be quite special for some other reason, of course).

Anyway, there are several textbook examples of cases where such predictions were taken seriously by professional geologists, leading to false positives, and in one case – in China – millions of people were displaced for nothing; since such things have a huge social – not to mention economical – cost, one has to be very carefull in the risk/benefits calculation.
So, maybe suing this person for causing a false alarm was the right thing to do, for what was the available knowledge at the time.

An excerpt from wikipedia (“Earthquake prediction”):

Controversy in trying to predict earthquakes

In the effort to predict earthquakes, people have tried to associate an impending earthquake with such varied phenomena as seismicity patterns, electromagnetic fields, weather conditions and unusual clouds, radon or hydrogen gas content of soil or ground water, water level in wells, animal behavior, and the phases of the moon.

Thus far, earthquake prediction is controversial because data are sparse and there is little evidence or verified physical theory to link observable phenomena to subsequent seismicity. The frequent practice of publishing predictions after the fact further complicates matters. Also, given enough predictions, it is virtually inevitable that some will succeed “by chance.” Assessing whether a successful prediction is a fluke is challenging. Most assessments rely models that describe the probability of earthquake occurrence. Such models are difficult to test or validate because large earthquakes are so rare, and because earthquake activity is naturally clustered in space and time.

Another suspicious sign of crackpottery is that this guy has an overly simplified theory of earthquakes, that he blindly believes and considers stupid those who don’t find it obvious: the theory of a link between tidal forces and earthquakes.
It is indeed an appealing idea, but again what wikipedia says about this:

Tidal forces

There are two flavors of tidal stressing that have been claimed to generate enhanced rates of earthquakes – diurnal and biweekly tides. The diurnal correlations would arise from more earthquakes only during the hours when the tidal stress is pushing in an encouraging direction, in contrast, biweekly effects would be based on earthquakes occurring during the days when the sinusoidal stressing oscillations are largest. The former, as most easily observed in the twice-daily rise and fall of the ocean tides, have occasionally been shown to influence tides (e.g.,[2], this paper shows there may be some weak tidal triggering of shallow, oceanic thrust-faulting earthquakes). The latter, which arises from the periodic alignment of the Sun and Moon, has often been claimed in the popular press to incubate earthquakes (sometimes termed the “syzygy” effect) and occasionally for small datasets in the scientific literature (e.g.,[3]), but generally such effects do not appear in careful studies of large datasets.

Syzygy, which is not given much credence in the scientific community, is motivated by the observation that, historically, there have been some great earthquakes whose timing coincides with tidal forces near their maximum. For maximum tidal force, three factors must coincide: First, when the moon (in its elliptical orbit) is closest to the earth; second, when it is within a day or two of a new moon (so that the tidal forces of the moon and sun are acting in concert); and third, when the earth (in its elliptical orbit) is at or near its closest distance to the sun.

Shallow earthquakes near mid-ocean ridges, volcanic earthquakes, and episodic tremor and slip have also been observed to sometimes correlate with the diurnal tides, with enhanced activity correlating with times that faults are unclamped.

3. Andrea Giammanco - April 6, 2009

> I might

of course I meant “He might…”

4. dorigo - April 6, 2009

Hi Andrea,

I agree that the guy shows distinct signs of crackpottery, and that he is oversimplifying matters. However, he has managed to attract media attention once (in 10 years, as he says), by predicting a massive earthquake, an event which did happen one week afterwards.

If we were to generate pseudoexperiments of random crackpots predicting similar events, which only happen once every 100 years or more, and counted how often does somebody who predicts something of the kind get a false positive in the matter of a week or so from the prediction, we would get a 1/5000 rate. Now, one in five thousand is not terribly improbable as a rate of false positivity, but I prefer to think that indeed, there are some factors (radon emission, pre-seismic activity) that brought that rate up by at least two orders of magnitude.

That is to say, I think he was “lucky” to some extent, but he was sitting on data which do correlate strongly with impending strong events.

Now, should people be evacuated in those instances ? Of course this is a very complicated matter to assess. Probably not. But even if the guy is a bit naive, he should not have been crucified a week ago, and should not be called a hero today. We should instead learn from our mistakes, and maybe invest money in deeper studies on the matter (and on building safer homes!).

Cheers,
T.

Cheers,
T.

5. Andrea Giammanco - April 6, 2009

Now I agree almost word by word.

6. dorigo - April 6, 2009

Great minds think alike, Andrea…

…and we do what we can to imitate them! ;-)

Cheers,
T.

7. Tony Smith - April 6, 2009

Andrea Giammanco accuses Giampaolo Giuliani of being a “crackpot” and
attempts to support that accusation by citing Wikipedia about the technicalities of earthquake prediction, tidal forces, radon emission, etc.

It seems to me that citing Wikipedia as source for such stuff is itself strong evidence of being a “crackpot”.

As to non-wikipedia sources of such stuff, here is an example:

“… NATURE OF SOIL GAS RADON RELEASE AND EARTHQUAKE PREDICTION …[by]… CHYI, L.L.1, QUICK, T.J.(1), YANG, F.T.(2), and CHEN, C.H.(2),
(1) Department of Geology, The Univ of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-4101 … (2) Dept. of Geosciences, National Taiwan Univ, 245 Chousan Rd, Taipei, 106, Taiwan

The elastic rebound was believed by Reid (1906) to be the immediate cause of earthquake. The theory has been confirmed over the years. The maximum deformation of rock units, therefore, occurs right before the spring back or rebound. Following the arguments of National Academy of Sciences (1976), there is no change in soil gas radon level during the initial energy accumulation stage. Radon levels start to increase when stress exceed one half of the rock strength. Spike-like anomalies start to develop when micro-fractures start to form and groundwater is quickly moving into the fractured and expanded rocks. The groundwater charging purges radon accumulated from radium decay in the micro-fractured rock matrix. This leads to a quick and intermittent with a subsequent short period of low releases of radon.
The spectra of continuous monitoring of soil gas radon with an improved solid-state detector placed in an active fault zone in south central Taiwan appear to support these theoretical predictions. The observation is a quick raise in radon level about a couple of weeks before a noticeable earthquake, and a peak precursor one to seven days before the occurrence. Noticeable earthquakes occur frequently in Taiwan that permits us to recognize stressed and relaxed states of the rock formations by using the recorded radon spectrum. With additional radon detecting units, a stress domain could also be determined. In addition, radon is found to correlate with total soil gas in release rate from measurements of gas bubbles out of a pond in a fault zone. Radon correlates with CH4 and C2H6 in release rate as well. However, radon has larger fluctuations over time than CH4and C2H6,and thus a better precursor. Other gases measured, including CO2, H2, He, H2O, N2, O2 and Ar, are not sensitive to earthquakes. An identical radon monitoring system is placed over North American craton in Akron for comparison. Soil gas radon level is low and variation over time is small when compared with the recordings in Taiwan.

2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)
Session No. 118
Geophysics/Tectonophysics/Seismology (Posters)
Colorado Convention Center: Exhibit Hall
8:00 AM-12:00 PM, Tuesday, October 29, 2002 …”.

Note particularly the statement:
“… The observation is a quick raise in radon level about a couple of weeks before a noticeable earthquake, and a peak precursor one to seven days before the occurrence. …”.

Tony Smith

8. Anonymous - April 6, 2009

The radon clue is very interesting, even if not always (or even usually) a “golden” sign. Did the radon escape from the ground right along the fault line? Did it come out in a line or from an area? What were the correlations between the radon emission and foreshocks? There are potentially a large number of “shower shape”-type variables that might possibly really start to help in future events.

9. dorigo - April 6, 2009

Hi Anon,

Giuliani has five radon detectors in the region around L’Aquila, and by correlating their signals he claims to be able to predict earthquakes with a certain precision.

Cheers,
T.

10. Sumar Ongi - April 6, 2009

I once had the strange (mis)fortune of having to live through a 6.7 magnitude earthquake. For a number of reasons, it didn’t cause the kind of widespread destruction that seems apparent in the photos of today’s earthquake in Italy, yet, it was quite seriously damaging.

It’s really a catastrophic natural disaster. My sympathy and condolences to all those people affected by it.

11. Luboš Motl - April 6, 2009

Sad. Silvio also said that there are two students among the victims, one of which was a Czech girl.

12. Luboš Motl - April 6, 2009

Rudy Giuliani’s cousin predicted the earthquake in that very region weeks ago – by seeing randon – but was forced to erased his website:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/5114139/Italian-earthquake-experts-warnings-were-dismissed-as-scaremongering.html

13. dorigo - April 6, 2009

No no Lubos, this is the son of the owner of “Amaro Medicinale Giuliani”. Jokes aside, you should read the post before commenting -the story is told there. However, thanks for the link to the telegraph.
Cheers,
T.

14. Luboš Motl - April 6, 2009

Sorry for reading in a sloppy way but I knew you would have written about the prediction, denied the links to the GOP hero, and missed a link to the Telegraph. ;-)

15. Alain De Carolis - April 6, 2009

Dorigo,

just a citation from “Soil Gas Radon Spectra and Earthquakes” – TAO, Vol. 16, No. 4, 763-774, October 2005

“Earthquake occurrences or the rupture of a fault may have been a random process but the migration of stress appears to be following certain regularity. Therefore, if multiple observing stations are established, more accurate earthquake prediction in terms of magnitude and location could possibly be made.”

16. Tony Smith - April 7, 2009

According to the English-language web page of a http://www.agi.it Italy news article dated 6 April 2009:
“… Michelangelo Ambrosio, a research manager with Infn … wrote a letter to the ‘Giuseppe Dossetti’ association wherein he notes that

“underestimating the application of new technologies simply because they are brought forward by researchers who are not part of the reigning establishment is an act of criminal negligence and today we are paying for its consequences”.

Giuseppe Dossetti (who died in 1996) was known as the father of Catto-comunismo, and the association with his name seems to be with the center-left opposition to Berlusconi,
so
I wonder how Berlusconi will play the Giuliani Earthquake situation, in light of this excerpt from a 6 April 2009 computerworld.com article by Giulia Pisino and Francesca Papapietro:
“… authorities had told Giuliani to take down his posting and chastised him for spreading panic. Even Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi weighed in, saying that “earthquakes can’t be predicted.” …”.

Tony Smith

17. Andrea Giammanco - April 7, 2009

Tony, I was probably not very clear, leading you to misunderstand my point.
Using radon as a predictor for earthquakes is very standard. In the geological literature, you find many more papers confirming it than denying it (and I attribute the difference to the fact that geological systems are very complex, and many factors play a role).
One of the points is that I find very suspicious somebody who claims to have *discovered* something which is, instead, very mainstream (so mainstream to be even in wikipedia; anyway, I also checked on google scholar, as I said).
Just imagine that I claim to have just developed a new theory according to which the speed of light is an invariant, but that unfortunately nobody in the physics community takes my theory seriously.
Concerning the tidal forces / earthquakes connection: I understand that it is considered a possibility, but there is no clear-cut evidence that moon-sun aligments are good predictors for major earthquakes (as far as I understood, a tenuous correlation has been found for small submarine earthquakes). In these conditions, somebody who states that this is *obvious* (as he does) is like, to make a parallel with our field, somebody who states as obvious that string theory is the reality.
(I admit, this is a bait for Lubos ;))

But, thinking more about the issue, it can well be that I was fooled by a bias in the press. Journalists don’t know much about science, on average, and they are forced to summarize a lot, and to do it quickly. A lot can be lost in translation.
And a story like that (the isolated scientist who turned out to be right, the Cassandra similarity, etc.) is sweet juice for the press: the tentation to sex up the story must be huge for a journalist.
So, maybe Giuliani never actually said what I have read, or it said it in a more complete context, so that I would have found it more convincing if I had read it in full.
I hope to have a clearer idea soon.

18. treco - April 7, 2009

Taking wikipedia as the only source of knowledge is silly.

19. Andrea Giammanco - April 7, 2009

treco, I think everybody agrees with your statement, the way it is formulated.
I add that taking wikipedia as a starting point for targeted searches in the scholarly literature is quite wise, and I strongly advice you to do so.

20. Tony Smith - April 7, 2009

Andrea, as to what Giuliani actually said, there is an interview on 24 March 2009 by Roberta Galeotti at http://www.donnedemocratiche.com/?p=2219 in which Giuliani is quoted directly about moon-sun etc alignments.
Here are some excerpts:
“… Senza voler banalizzare, ma per semplificare i concetti, posso aggiungere anche che l’attività sismica è strettamente correlata alle fasi lunari.
In particolare quest’anno, il sistema Terra-Luna, si è venuto a trovare al Perielio (Punto più vicino al Sole, in Inverno) con la Luna nello stesso periodo alla minima distanza dalla Terra, e con il Pianeta Venere allineato, in fase di Venere piena anch’essa vicina. L’attrazione gravitazionale delle masse sulla Terra hanno intensificato l’effetto marea sul nostro pianeta, rendendo gli eventi sismici più rilevanti, rispetto agli altri sciami, cui siamo stati interessati negli anni precedenti.
Mi sento di poter tranquillizzare i miei concittadini, in quanto lo sciame sismico andrà scemando con la fine di marzo. …”.

The involvement of the planet Venus seems to me to be very unlikely,
and
Giuliani’s reassurance to his fellow citizens that the seismic swarm will decline with the end of March seems to me to be contradicted by the fact that the quake actually happened on 6 April 2009.

On the other hand, since Tommaso quoted in the original post that Giuliani said on the day of the quake
“… In the last three days we saw a large increase of Radon. Large increases of Radon, above safety thresholds, mean strong earthquakes. …”
it seems likely to me that Giuliani’s radon work may be accurate.

As to being critical of Giuliani for claiming that he “discovered” something new with respect to radon,
when as you say radon has been used in many parts of the world with respect to earthquake studies,
maybe Giuliani is only claiming to have introduced that approach to Italy, and not to have “discovered” it absolutely.
For example, the English-language web page of a http://www.agi.it Italy news article dated 6 April 2009 said in part:
“… Corrado Stillo, head of the Observatory for the protection and development of the rights of the “Giuseppe Dossetti” association … says that “We are asking for a debate to be called as soon as possible to see why prediction studies carried out by Italian researchers on the potential prevention of earthquakes are not taken onto consideration.
This is not time for controversy and it is the case that a country that has seismic problems like we have should assess predictions based on the emission of radon gas as happens in other countries such as Japan, where radon data has been collected and analysed by experts for years”. …”.

In light of all that, it seems to me (just my opinion) that:

1 – Giuliani was right about radon, and the powers-that-be were wrong to try to suppress that;

2 – Giuliani is probably wrong about his Moon and Venus stuff, and in fact his Moon and Venus stuff led him to error in his prediction of the time of the quake (substantially after the end of March).

Ad hominem attacks on scientists such as have hit Giuliani are very evil,
because they not only discourage anyone else from thinking independently (in fact, that is the basic motive for such attacks),
but they also act to block acceptance of any valid good part of the work done.
In this case,
Giuliani should be commended for his radon work,
and maybe there should be objections raised against his Moon-and-Venus work.

Tony Smith

PS – I am NOT saying that there is absolutely no correlation between major quakes and lunar phases etc.
For example, if you took the hypothesis that big quakes tend to fall near (give or take a few days) the new or full moon,
and
if the major radon releases had occurred after the new moon of 24 March 2009,
then
you would have said that the probability of the quake would increase from then up to the next full moon on 9 April 2009,
and
that would have been (give or take a few days) consistent with the real quake date of 6 April 2009
and
a warning for that period (24 March to 9 April), if accepted, might have saved a lot of lives.

21. Andrea Giammanco - April 7, 2009

> maybe Giuliani is only claiming to have introduced that approach to Italy,

I don’t know if he claims so, but I hope not, since this is not the case.
On google scholar I found several papers related to radon-earthquakes correlation studies in italian seismically active areas.
For example, this one is from 1983 and makes use of radon-monitoring measurements collected since 1980: “Radon and tilt anomalies detected before the Tirpinia (South Italy) earthquake of November 23, 1980 at great distances from the epicenter”, Allegri et al., Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 10, Issue 4, p. 269-272.

22. Tony Smith - April 7, 2009

Andrea,
as to what position Giuliani holds, a 7 April 2009 ScienceInsider blog entry by John Travis and Laura Margotini said:
“… He works at the National Laboratories at Gran Sasso …
“He is a technician in a collaboration with Gran Sasso, which is based in Turin – and his work on earthquakes is a hobby, nothing to do with the research project here,” that institute’s director told Nature …
he has been studying the correlation between earthquakes and radon … He has reportedly claimed to develop radon-monitoring devices …
One such machine is reportedly located with Gran Sasso, whereas the others are reportedly in nearby Abruzzo, where the earthquake hit on Monday….”.

As to what Giuliani claims for his radon machines, I have not found any paper by him describing them, and have not found anything more detailed than the http://www.donnedemocratiche.com/?p=2219 interview of 24 March 2009, which said in part:
“… Ora disponiamo di 5 stazioni che ci consentono di triangolare i dati ottenendo con precisione l’epicentro ed il grado sismico dell’evento.
Attraverso questa macchina ho potuto studiare il comportamento del radon e conoscerne delle caratteristiche non note alla scienza ufficiale perché sprovvista della tecnologia da noi utilizzata.
I 5 Precursori sismici si trovano a Coppito, nel Laboratorio del Gran Sasso (ospite dell’INFN), presso la scuola De Amicis, a Fagnano e a Pineto …
Nel 2005 ho tenuto un seminario presso l’INFN a cui hanno partecipato quasi 100 scienziati, alcuni esperti di geofisica altri di particelle cosmiche.
In quella occasione ho presentato il rivelatore di radon, ho rivelato i dati che dimostrano l’efficienza dello strumento
ed ho dimostrato la correlazione tra l’allarme generato dal Precursore e l’evento sismico. …”.

From the interview, it seems to me that

1 – Giuliani claims to have invented a more advanced form of radon detector that can see
“… caratteristiche non note alla scienza ufficiale perché sprovvista della tecnologia da noi utilizzata …”
(“… characteristics not known to any official science because it does not have the technology …” – sorry for my bad translation)

2 – Giuliani claims to have presented his radon detection advanced technology invention to a group at INFN back in 2005

3 – Giuliani claims to have his radon detection advanced technology invention at 5 stations, and to have used them with respect to his warning about the recent quake

4 – I have not been able to find any publication by Giuliani (I don’t care whether officially published in peer-reviewed journal, or on a web site, or what) that describes exactly HOW his radon detection advanced technology invention is any different from any other radon detection device (as Andrea said, such devices go back at least to the 1980s, and probably many years earlier).

So, it seems to me that Giuliani IS claiming some sort of invention with respect to radon detection devices,
but
I have not (yet) found enough detailed information to either affirm or refute his claim.

Tony Smith

23. Tony Smith - April 7, 2009

Now I see that Giampaulo Giuliani has a middle name, Gioacchino, and so is also known as Gioacchino Giuliani,
and that he has a patent application at the European Patent Office
v3.espacenet.com/publicationDetails/biblio?CC=WO&NR=2004061448&KC=&FT=E
(beware of line break in the long URL)
whose abstract says:
“An apparatus and a method for the detection of Radon gas concentration variation in the environment is provided. The detector device, e.g. a scintillator and a photomultiplier tube (PMT), is able to detect gamma particles generated from the decay of Radon (222Rn) and its progeny. Preferably, the apparatus further comprises a light shielding and a natural nuclear radiation shielding means. In addition, a method of forecasting seismic events, e.g. earthquakes, is described,
using a detection net consisting of several of the aforementioned detection devices located over the territory to be monitored,
linked together by a software or hardware network.”

The patent description itself says, in part:
“… State of the art The presence of Radon is mainly detectable by using two kind of instrumentation: passive detectors and active detectors.
The main drawback of the passive detectors is that with this kind of devices it is not possible to have an instantaneous detection of Radon concentration in the air. For this reason, those detectors are not able to detect in real time any momentary oscillation in Radon concentration, so they are often useless for seismic events forecasting.
The active detectors overcome this passive detectors drawback but only partially, due to the Radon detection methods so far utilised. In fact, active detectors measure the Radon gas concentration mainly as alpha particles emission due to Radon decay, so they are subject to environmental interference that could compromise the required precision. Moreover, since the radon, which is a radioactive gas produced by uranium decay, has an half life higher than three days, the traditional methods utilised by active detectors are not able to detect variation in Radon gas concentration in the environment accurately, except considering a lifetime scale of some days.
Consequently, even the measurements performed with the well-know active detectors have some limitations because of the discontinuity of the obtained detection.

Summary of the invention In particular, the invention regards an apparatus for the detection of Radon gas concentration variation comprising a device able to detect the flashes of gamma particles generated from Radon decay (222Rn) or its secondary products, especially during the phase of beta-decay from lead (214Pb) to bismuth (214Bi) to polonium (214Po) that follows the alpha-decays from Radon (222Rn); in fact, when the concentration of Radon gas in the observed environment is higher, the quantity of gamma particles coming from its decay is higher.

Detailed description of the invention
The present invention provides an apparatus to detect the variation of Radon gas concentration in the environment,
very accurate in the measurements,
free from environmental interference
and, above all,
able to detect variations in concentrations on a time scale of a few hours as needed for an effective earthquake forecast. …”.

So now I see HOW Giuliani claims to have made a significant new invention with respect to radon detection,
and
it seems to me that he might reasonably be considered to have been successful in that regard.

Tony Smith

24. Andrea Giammanco - April 8, 2009

Hi Tony, thanks a lot for the investigation. It is really interesting.
Just one small general consideration: successful applications to patent offices are said to be poorly reliable indications of reliability of a device, since the criteria for acceptance are different from what we are used to in science.
As far as I understood, other factors (like the originality) count more than being an actual improvement with respect to existing devices.

A famous example of a device which was rightly granted a patent without being ever seen working:

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6362718.PN.&OS=PN/6362718&RS=PN/6362718

It is debated (and this is an euphemism) whether it *can* work at all, since it violates the first law of thermodynamics (the inventors have a theory of their own), and no working prototypes has ever been seen, as far as I could investigate.

25. Tony Smith - April 8, 2009

Andrea, I completely agree that the granting of a patent is totally irrelevant as to whether or not something will actually work or be useful.

My opinion that the radon device of the Giampaolo Gioacchino Giuiliani
European (not USA as in the example you gave) patent
WO 2004061448
might reasonably be considered to be a significant new invention with respect to radon detection
is NOT based on the existence of the patent,
but
is based on the descriptions in the patent,
most particularly the claim that the device is “… able to detect variations in concentrations on a time scale of a few hours as needed for an effective earthquake forecast. …”
and
the specification of a reasonable-sounding mechanism (observing gamma rays in addition to alpha rays for active detection) for achieving that claim,
and
is also based on his statement that at INFN in 2005 he “… rivelato i dati che dimostrano l’efficienza dello strumento …”
(“… revealed data that demonstrated the efficiency of the device …” – again my apologies if my translation is clumsy).

I may be taking some risk in trusting that Giuliani really did show real data indicating the ability of the device “… to detect variations in concentrations on a time scale of a few hours …”,
but
considering all the circumstances I think that such trust is probably realistic.

Tony Smith

26. Thiwa - November 19, 2009

Great…Thank For Share This.

27. Shelly - December 23, 2009

The tragedy in L’Aquila is unlikely to resolve the question of whether scientists’ predictions can help minimize the damage and death wreaked by earthquakes.

28. Shelly - December 23, 2009

The tragedy in L’Aquila is unlikely to resolve the question of whether scientists’ predictions can help minimize the damage and death wreaked by earthquakes.


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