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San Francisco unlikely to be epicenter of big quake: Indian seismologist

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earthquake predictions

Last month’s occurrence of 70 earthquakes in just 48 hours along the “Pacific Ring of Fire” sparked fears that a big temblor is on the way to rattle California on the US West Coast.

The Ring of Fire around the edge of the Pacific Ocean is a 40,000-km-long, horseshoe-shaped, seismically-active belt that passes through California. San Francisco in northern California, which suffered a massive earthquake in 1906, is reportedly on high alert.

But Arun Bapat, a Pune-based research seismologist and former chief of earthquake research at the Central Water and Power Research Station, who had predicted the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, believes that San Francisco is unlikely to be hit.

“It is possible that California may be visited by a quake of magnitude more than 7, but I am not sure whether the epicenter could be at San Francisco,” Bapat told this correspondent in an email.

“Based on my research, after having checked some parameters of the deadly 1906 San Francisco earthquake, I would say that the rupture during that earthquake was from San Juan to Telegraph Hills — a distance of 270 miles (432 km),” Bapat said.

“The rupture travels from San Juan in the south to Telegraph Hills in the north. If the northern parts of San Francisco were ruptured about a century back, there could be still some remnants of the ruptured rocks. The south of San Juan is more virgin for rupture. This is the logic of my reasoning that the probable epicenter could be about 70- to 100-km south of San Francisco.”

Bapat’s confidence stems from the string of correct predictions he has made about impending earthquakes for years.

“I have been working in the fields of earthquake and allied sciences, including earthquake forecasting,” Bapat explained.

The massive January 2001 earthquake in Bhuj was one such prediction he made when he heard about water suddenly oozing out of the ground and sprouting in the form of springs in some locations in Gujarat’s Kutch district.

The strange event invited curious onlookers but it rang an alarm bell in Bapat who had read reports that sprouting of groundwater had preceded the Kangra earthquake (April 4, 1905) and the Quetta earthquake (May 30, 1935).

Without losing time, Bapat e-mailed the Gujarat government that the event witnessed in Kutch “is a sign of large-magnitude earthquake occurring within 2-3 weeks”. His warning was ignored.

But his prediction came true on January 26 (India’s Republic Day) when Bhuj was shaken by 7.9 magnitude quake — hence known as the Republic Day quake — that killed around 10,000 people.

“Seismic precursors such as water oozing from the ground, and abnormal animal behavior before a large magnitude earthquake cannot be quantified,” Bapat reports in the journal Current Science. “But these are highly reliable and should be used by the authorities for mitigation measures.”

Abnormal behavior of domestic animals like cows, buffaloes, dogs, cats, horses, lambs about 10 hours before earthquakes has been observed and reported before the Uttarkashi earthquake of 1991, Latur earthquake of 1993, Bhuj earthquake of 2001, Sumatran earthquake and tsunami of 2004, and the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, Bapat said.

The oldest record of abnormal animal behavior before an earthquake is available for the Kangra earthquake of 1905, when animals in the Lahore Zoo — about 180 km from the epicenter — reportedly became “noisy, violent, and aggressive”.

The 6.5 magnitude earthquake that rocked China on August 8, 2017 killed 19 people and injured 247. Not many are aware that Bapat had warned his Chinese colleagues about its occurrence only a day before it struck.

Bapat alerted his Chinese counterpart after seeing a satellite infra-red image in the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) website. It showed a “thermal high” in the China-Japan region that was not there five hours earlier — which Bapat knew was a sign of a moderate to large magnitude earthquake within the next few hours.

That forecast turned to be correct as was his prediction of the 7.2-magnitude Mexico earthquake of April 18, 2014, two months before the actual event.

Bapat’s predictions using satellite readings of some seismological and geophysical parameters like “Total Electron Content” and “Outgoing Long wave Radiation”, in addition to infra-red images of the earth, had also turned out to be correct.

For instance, using these data, on 14 April, 2017, Bapat alerted the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir government of a possible earthquake of magnitude around 5.5 “within the next few days”. An earthquake of magnitude 5.0 did occur four days later, 79-km from Kargil, as predicted.

This satellite-borne data could be effectively used for earthquake forecasting and prediction on a 24×7 basis, says Bapat. “The data is freely available on the Indian Meteorological Department website.”

Besides satellite data, there are seismic precursors that Bapat has used for forecasting.

“About two days before an earthquake, the landline telephone communication gets disturbed; radio reception fades away about 30 to 40 hours before the event and television reception gets disturbed about 10 hours before an earthquake,” Bapat said.

“About 100 minutes before the occurrence of a moderate to large magnitude earthquake, all mobile telephones stop functioning.”

These precursors were noticed prior to the 1993 Latur earthquake in Maharashtra, the Bhuj quake of 2001 and the 7.5 magnitude Kathmandu quake on April 25, 2015.

Bapat’s prediction based on surface temperature also turned out to be correct in the case of the earthquake in Manipur early last year.

(K.S. Jayaraman is a veteran science journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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