It’s always earthquake season in California, but there has recently been an increased level of concern about some other areas in the U.S. The September 1990 issue of Discover magazine has an article on possible east coast earthquakes titled “California’s Revenge.” The author, Ann Finkbeiner, contrasts the limited number of deaths and amount of damage from the October 1989 quake in Santa Cruz, CA with the Charleston, SC quake of August 31, 1886 which flattened almost every building in the city, killed at least 110 people, and was felt over 1.5 million square miles from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to Bermuda. Most of the people who have paid any attention to earthquakes have read that they occur largely at the boundaries of two or more large plates which are grinding against each other. The “Ring of Fire” around the boundaries of the Pacific and an area running from southern Asia through the near East and the Mediterranean Sea region are well known for their clashing plates which periodically produce highly destructive earthquakes as happened in Iran and in the Philippine Islands in the summer of 1990.
But quakes can also happen in the middle of the massive plates on which the earth’s crust is riding. Three quakes thought to be the strongest to have occurred in the U.S. since its takeover by Europeans hit the vicinity of New Madrid, Missouri in the months from December 1811 to February 1812. The shaking changed the course of the Mississippi River and damaged buildings as far as Charleston and Washington, DC. It is estimated that it was felt over some 4 million square miles. Many areas in the eastern U.S. have underlying faults, including New York City, and they do not have the building codes which protect California cities and reduce the damage. The quakes are less frequent but also less predictable. According to Finkbeiner, “since the late 17th. century, eastern North America has had 16 earthquakes larger than magnitude 6 and several hundred larger than magnitude 4. Each step up in magnitude increases an earthquake’s strength by ten times, so magnitude 6 is 100 times stronger than magnitude 4.” p. 80
Geologists now realize that the pressure of grinding plates is not felt only at the edges. Pressure on the edges can result in deformation in the centers of the plates since they are not totally rigid. This stress can be measured, with one method involving an examination of oil-well bore holes to measure the extent to which they have been squeezed out of shape. One couple, Mary Lou and Mark Zoback, along with many collaborators, has assembled a global map of such measurements. They show North America being compressed along an axis that runs from east-northeast to west-southwest. The pressure is largely coming from the mid-Atlantic ridge which is being fed by hot liquid rock that oozes up from earth’s molten mantle and helps push apart the European and North American plates. (For aficionados of Atlantis, this action is one of many counts against the mythical continent which is supposed to have gone down in the Atlantic Ocean. For many thousands of years, new land has been forming under the sea rather than disappearing into it).
One of the reasons for the difficulty in forecasting eastern U.S. quakes is the lack of surface features offering clues to the presence of buried faults. But recent work is clarifying the areas which seem most likely to be associated with past and future quakes. They theoretically occur at the edges of rifts where continents have pulled apart and where the earth’s crust is weak, thin and cracked, or in “failed rifts” which stopped short of such a separation but where earth’s crust has still been weakened. Charleston and part of New England and northeast Canada are in the first category. A rift running under the Mississippi River from southern Arkansas past New Madrid and into southern Illinois is an example of the second category. Geologists emphasize that where mid-plate quakes are concerned, there is no certainty that a future quake will occur in the same place as a past one. New Madrid has about 150 small quakes every year, mostly unfelt. It is estimated to have magnitude 4 quakes every year or two, magnitude 5 every 10 to 20 years, magnitude 6 every 70 to 100 years, and magnitude 8 every 500 to 1000 years. But statistical analysis of past quakes seems totally unreliable in the eastern U.S. Some geologists claim that the next one might occur in the place that has been quietest the longest, but no one knows. Mark Zoback and a colleague Paul Segall are working on a new approach to prediction which measures minute deformations of earth’s crust using information from a network of radio-emitting satellites operated by the Department of Defense. Zoback and Segall will look first at Charleston and New Madrid, but like all new theories, only time will tell whether the degree to which the earth is being squeezed is an accurate clue to a coming quake.
In the meantime, there are people who claim to have successfully predicted quakes in the past. The climatologist Ibn Browning has recently vaulted to instant fame by predicting a quake within a day plus or minus December 3, 1990. His forecast suggests that there is a 50-50 chance that it will occur at New Madrid though it might hit Tokio or the San Andreas or Hayward faults in California. Browning claims that he accurately forecast the October 1989 Bay area quake a week ahead of time at a lecture, and that since 1971, he has picked the correct dates of four large earthquakes, two volcanoes, and one day with both an earthquake and a volcano. St Helens was one of his volcanic successes. Browning hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal on September 18, 1990 but his theories have been percolating through the financial community for years. I have written at least twice in the past about his ideas which are vehemently rejected by most scientists. He looks mostly at tidal forces caused by the positions of the sun and moon but does not make any use of the planets. He has examined geological and other records to produce his correlations with the astronomical cycles, working with ice cores from glaciers, with varves (ripples from ancient beaches), tree rings, etc. The New Madrid area is reported to be in a state of alert with some people planning to leave the area, schools planning to keep the children outdoors doing earthquake drills during December 3-4, and considerable earthquake insurance being sold. Browning’s neck is really out on this one. I wish I had his birth data, to see whether he is more likely to be a hero or a target of ridicule by December 5.
Another man who claims he successfully predicted the Bay area quake is a geologist named Bergland. He is cautious in evaluating Browning’s claims, saying that he is doubtful about his forecast for December 3. Bergland is now putting out a newsletter of quake forecasts. I have not yet seen a copy of his newsletter, but hope to soon.
An astrologer friend in New York, Diana Rosenberg, has suggested that the full Moon of July 26, 1991 might indicate problems in Los Angeles during the following few weeks. Uranus is exactly on the IC as part of a stellium in the fourth house (land, families, security etc.) which includes Saturn exactly on the Moon and opposite the Sun. I calculated the chart but there are so many things that could happen, I am not going to worry about quakes. It could be gang activity, worsening home prices or job opportunities, etc. I probably won’t be in L.A. since I plan to drive down toward the end of Baja California to see the spectacular eclipse we are promised in early July, but I do try to check out possible times of danger to be able to warn clients if things look really serious. As I have written many times, I think that astrology is great on issues and timing, but it is usually not able to predict precise details. Of course, the more I work with the asteroids, the more I suspect that specific predictions may be achieved some day but so far I have been unsuccessful in trying to forecast earthquakes.
Like everyone else, I will wait and see whether anything happens on December 3, but in the meantime I looked at the Capricorn ingress in late December 1989 and the Libra ingress in September 1990, calculating them for New Madrid, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the areas picked out by Browning as possible sites for a major quake. Theoretically, the Libra ingress should show the potential for a crisis if one were scheduled for any time from September 23, 1990 up to December 22, 1990. I have been testing the theory that all the ingresses (not just the Aries ingress) might give useful information about their special area for a full year until the next ingress in the same sign. The theory is based partly on the fact that the Capricorn ingress of December 1988 calculated for San Francisco did have aspects that were appropriate for an earthquake. The October 1989 quake occurred before the next Capricorn ingress. Among many other associations, Capricorn and Saturn are associated with mountains and rock in general, so that ingress could offer clues to events involving rocks.
A short inspection of the charts just listed has failed to show much cause for alarm. The preceding Capricorn ingress calculated for New Madrid puts the south lunar node exactly on the IC, showing security concerns though they may be purely mental. Neptune in the eighth house and quincunx the Ascendant just over one degree from exact is also likely to signify mental anxiety and doubts and Browning’s prediction has guaranteed a lot of them.
The Libra ingress for New Madrid does seem more serious with Saturn square the MC-IC and making a station, (turning from retrograde to direct), which emphasizes its importance while the north node of Saturn is right on the Ascendant. These patterns might be read as a threat which is outside of human control, but it seems more likely that they are an indication of the psychological anxiety of the people in the region and that nothing major will happen. There are enough harmonious aspects to suggest that the danger is mostly in the imagination though I can’t totally rule out an event. The transiting (T) south lunar node will have retrograded to conjunct the ingress Ascendant by December 3, T Sun will oppose the ingress Mars, T Mars will be trioctile the ingress Saturn, T Pluto will be quincunx the ingress MC etc. All of these patterns could simply mean psychological alarm and people leaving the area.
We will have another Asteroid-World out before December, so perhaps I will have more time to work with the charts, including doing the calculations for some big cities like Memphis, TN. A major quake would cause far more destruction in a big city than in small towns such as New Madrid, and obviously the aspects to the chart angles which are so important in astrology do change as you vary the latitude and longitude of the chart. But, always at some point, deadlines (another trip on this occasion) force me to give up the search for the one more chart that will give a definitive answer. At this point, I have not seen anything that would make me leave home.