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Can Shortwave Radios Detect Earthquakes?

A New Tool To Assist Earthquake Prediction?

The RF Seismograph: Another Exciting Amateur Radio First

Alex Schwarz VE7DXW, presented his findings at the SARC April 2019 monthly general meeting. Alex is exploring the possibility that “RF signatures” detected by the RF Seismograph propagation tool could also be indicating earthquakes, and may even be able to predict them shortly before they occur; one or two hours appear likely. A real-time HF propagation-monitoring tool developed by Schwarz and the MDSR team, the RF Seismograph shows both band noise and activity or band activity alone on six HF bands. It’s a project of the North Shore Amateur Radio Club (NSARC).

It has been documented for some time that major geological movements create magnetic waves. These magnetic waves interact with RF and manifest themselves as disturbances that are received on HF. Alex had been monitoring propagation intending to study the effects of the last solar eclipse. His finding showed a correlation with earthquake activity and the RF Seismograph was born. Basically, this is a broadband HF receiver monitoring a large range of frequencies. 

The RF-Seismograph’s recent discovery that Earthquakes can be detected using a RF-receiver are intriguing and it validates a lot of new research that claims that earthquakes also create a magnetic field that extends into the Ionosphere and causes changes that can be measured with a cluster of GPS receivers.

The RF-Seismograph team has been collaborating with Earthquakes Canada to find a correlation between HF propagation and earthquakes. There was a distinct event that occurred on Nov 1st  (M5.0 off the coast of Vancouver Island) which was detected by the RF-Seismograph an hour before. Of course an hour warning before a major earthquake is significant.  There is process underway to correlate earthquakes that are bigger than M6.0 with the 4 years of data accumulated so far. 

“We had been doing the solar eclipse experiment, and we developed the RF Seismograph software to look for changes in propagation during the eclipse,” Schwarz explained. “After the eclipse, we decided to leave the RF Seismograph running, and we have now collected 4 years of data.”

The system uses an omnidirectional multiband antenna to monitor JT-65 frequencies (±10 kHz) on 80, 40, 30, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Recorders monitor the background noise and display the result in six color-coded, long-duration graphs displaying 6 hours of scans. When signals are present on a band, its graph trace starts to resemble a series of vertical bars.

Most recently, the RF Seismograph recorded the magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Ecuador on February 22. Schwarz recounted that noise on 15 meters began to be visible about 1 hour before the quake; then, 2 hours after the quake released, 15 meters started to recover. The US Geological Survey said the quake was about 82 miles below ground. It did not affect 80 meters. Schwarz speculated that the quake was easy to see on the RF Seismograph because 15 meters typically is not open during hours of darkness — especially when the solar flux is only 70

Following a magnitude 5.0 earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island, his RF Seismograph picked up changes. Canada’s government-run Earthquakes Canada was able to provide Schwarz with a list of magnitude 6.0 or greater events since the RF Seismograph went into operation, and the two teams have been collaborating to find a correlation between HF propagation anomalies and earthquakes. With the measurements, Schwarz has been attempting find a correlation between the list of past geological events and what his RF Seismograph may have sensed on those occasions.

“The earthquakes show up as RF noise because of the electric field lines, now scientifically confirmed to change the way the ionosphere reflects RF,” Schwarz said. He cited an article in the October 2018 edition of Scientific American, which, he says, “explains it really well.” (See Erik Vance’s “Earthquakes in the sky,” Scientific American, October 2018, p. 44).

The Scientific American article explores measurements in Japan looking into how earthquakes can create electric field lines that extend into the atmosphere. “Could they be used to detect earthquakes before they cause damage on the planet?” Schwarz asks.

Schwarz said 171 earthquakes — all magnitude 6.0 events or greater — were studied, and only 15 of them had no RF noise associated with them. In 26 cases, the time of the disturbance detected by the RF Seismograph failed to match the USGS-reported time of the quake. The latter likely because of the current low solar cycle and poor propagation.

Schwarz said that in 72% of the earthquake studies, the RF Seismograph was able to detect an increase in noise on 80 meters, typically before and after the event.

“More analysis is needed,” Schwarz has concluded. “The study is still continuing and we need your help to set up more monitoring stations.”

RF Seismograph is now a project on, facilitated through Arizona State University. Schwarz said Scistarter hosts “interesting projects for all ages and backgrounds” and “provides a vehicle for young people that are interested in science to get real live experience in this field.”

Contact Schwarz for additional information.  

A video of Alex's presentation is available at:

The presentation slides are at:

Alex’s site:

Partial post content courtesy of

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