Magnitude Unknown

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Friday, May 27, 2022 at 8 AM.

Debbie Barnes fed seismic data from the last Southern California Seismic Network (SCSN) download into the most recent update of the quantum phase transition model (QPTM). Materials physicists and geophysicists had worked together to marry different spin change materials data with geophysical data for seismic prediction capabilities into the model.

Even more exciting, she was using the first production version of a quantum computer certified by the High Performance Computing (HPC) market. She was eager to include seismic data from last night’s 5.9 tremor centered near Palmdale, along with the swarm data that preceded it.

Amidst all of this scientific technology, the gnawing feeling in her stomach wasn’t just emotion, it had a basis in two weeks of unusual seismic activity. It was not just about her 18-year-old-daughter Meg’s participation in a week-end Cal Tech science field trip study of the San Andreas Fault line from Palm Desert to Frazier Park, but about her nagging suspicion regarding the Palmdale earthquake. Two weeks of swarms that came before it was somewhat of an unprecedented phenomenon.

She noted “The Flight of the Bumblebee” tune call from her mother, Lucy. Lucy had been occupying Debbie’s desk for 20 years before her retirement last year. The bumblebbe seemed to characterize her mother’s frenetic pace.

Accordingly, her retirement was somewhat of a joke between them. Lucy still was a public figure, in media demand whenever larger tremors shook California soil, and rightfully so. Lucy was a seismoligist too who had carved a career in Hazard Science. A decade ago she had led a revealing study that focused on the San Andreas Fault, pinpointing its threat for the more populous areas of Southern California in the event of a 8.0 earthquake.

Contrarily, Debbie’s specialty was leading-edge quantum phase modeling, with the hope of using this new tool to help predict not just the probability of earthquakes over coming decades but the certainty of one, given sufficient data points with a processing speed that can produce results in hours rather than months.

“What’s up, Mom,” Debbie intoned?

“You let your child go amid that threatening rumble in the desert?”

“Come on,” Mom, “she left before the 5.9 hit. Anyway, as you know, that’s not out of the ordinary and we have no reason to suspect that it is.”

“Well, it’s on the San Andreas, and the Big One is overdue, you know.”

“All right, for both our assurances, I’ll ring her on her cell before I analyze the results of the new quantum phase run. It will probably conclude before I leave tonight.”

“Meg, where are you now? Am I interrupting anything?”

“We are at the Palmdale site witnessing ground penetrating radar readings by the Seismological Lab’s lead scientist. Everyone’s mumbling about a new water table reading.”

“That should be in the thousands of feet,” Debbie said. “What’s the reading?”

“I’m sure that’s what Ted said as he took the reading. Yes, ‘Fifty feet,’” Meg responded.

“Fifty feet!” Debbie almost shouted, nearly spitting out her bite of a power bar. “Let me get back to you.”

Debbie hung up and quickly hit a key on her laptop to see if her model run was finished after four hours had passed. She noted conclusive results and scrolled through ten pages of findings on the report, first the 3D imaging of the Palmdale interior area, then composite spin transition readings over the swarm period and up to the Palmdale earthquake and into this morning, this from tomographic images fed into the model.

Mumbling to herself, “Spin transition tracing seems to change magnetic properties across hundreds, even thousands of kilometers, demonstrably, nano to macro.” Then after expelling air, she vocalized:  “Oh, my, God!”

Just then, Barry, one of the seismic team members was passing by. “You studying a new dance spin formula, Debbie?”

“I sure feel like it, Barry, and it’s making me dizzy!”

Passing by, “Tell me about it when your head clears, kiddo,” Barry said.

She pressed a cell button, holding it to her ear. “Meg, would you put Ted on the phone?

After a very long minute, Ted came on the line. “Any chance, that you could make tracks toward Pasadena with your study group, Ted? My model tells me that conditions could be building for the Big One and that the Palmdale quake may well be a precursor.”

“You are serious, Debbie?”

“Like a bad migraine, Ted!”

Debbie was back on her phone with her mother. “My modeling run, based on quantum phase changes and convection change predictions from mantle to lithosphere, gives a fairly high probability that the Palmdale quake is a foreshock.”

“How so? There’s always a 6% chance of a quake being a foreshock, depending on the situation,” Lucy said.

“Well, the model is predicting a 39% chance, and that doesn’t even include the peculiar GPR water table reading by Ted today of 50 feet.”

“Oh, my God, did you tell Ted to bring the study group home?”

“I sure did, 20 minutes ago, after I saw the prediction. Now, what do we do?”

“Well, Channel 4 is questioning me in two hours about the Palmdale quake. You want to devise a statement and join me in the interview?”

“It’s a lot to think about. Not much time for thinking, though. There’s something like two days or less, if it happens,” Debbie said, stating the odds.

“It’s dicy for the Memorial Day weekend, but we have to tell the truth as we know it. An 8 near Palmdale on the Richter scale can mean widespread damage over the whole region,” mused Lucy.

“Don’t want to sound cavalier, but any warning statement could translate like a quantum-to-macro-media mush,” Debbie pondered.

“Ain’t that a mouthful. Public will wonder if it’s a recipe or a dance.”

“A little bit of both, mom,” Debbie said. “A little bit of both.”

About the Author: 
James Hoover is retired from aerospace and adjunct college teaching. He published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes science articles on college websites. Interests include physics and cosmology studies.
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