How One Article Convinced the West Coast an Earthquake is Imminent

There’s been consternation over a supposed cloud of carbon monoxide that’s developed over the West Coast for the last few days. Is it a venting of gases that preludes a major earthquake?

One writer at Daily Kos, only known as Pakalolo, seems to think so in his post “Can we pause the Bernie-Hillary wars for a moment? Major Carbon Monoxide Explosion West Coast.”

Seems fairly innocuous, right? First off, the only thing trending right now that the article’s title forgets is Chris Rock’s opening Oscar monologue. Yet, earlier versions of the title claimed the carbon monoxide explosion indicates an imminent earthquake – the text within still claims this, and it’s been shared widely. Is this really vetted science though?

What does Pakalolo base this on? In 2010, Indian geophysicist Ramesh Singh published a paper that suggested the Earth may emit bursts of carbon monoxide in the week prior to an earthquake. The only problem is the paper hangs its hat chiefly on one observed occurrence: a devastating earthquake in Gujarat, India in 2001.

Pakalolo makes the mistake of thinking this was a comprehensive theory, rather than an individual study. Singh’s own abstract claims, “The cause of such an anomalous change in surface temperature prior to the earthquake is attributed to many probable phenomena, but no definite cause has been identified.” In other words, there was an indication of concurrent events, but nothing that can be qualified as new science.

Carbon monoxide releases may precede an earthquake. Then again, they may not. Yet is the explosion of carbon monoxide across the West Coast even real?

The observations came via the Nullschool Monitor, which measured carbon monoxide rates between 25 and 200 times typical background levels starting on Feb. 25. The spike came on in a mere three hours – far too much to be a manmade pollution event, or even a massive wildfire.

Even the Nullschool Monitor has stated on its Facebook page that, “There are no corroborating measurements from other sensors that show an increase in carbon monoxide levels. Highly likely this is just a glitch somewhere in the pipeline. Sometimes glitches happen.”

Is it time to panic? Probably not. Even if Singh’s notion that carbon monoxide venting precedes an earthquake is accurate, independent ground monitors in California aren’t picking up the supposed carbon monoxide. When one monitor disagrees with dozens of others, you’ve got an issue.

And when NASA weighs in, the argument’s usually over. Dr. Gavin Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, confirmed these massive spikes of carbon monoxide turn out to be nothing but a glitch.

The tool used to measure and rate pollution in the atmosphere was switching out of safe mode at the time. Its operating temperature had not yet stabilized, causing it to interpret nonexistent wildfires all across the West Coast.

In other words, one Daily Kos contributor looked at a data glitch, didn’t confirm it and subsequently panicked the entire West Coast into fears of an imminent massive earthquake. Behold, the power of the internet. Seems you’re safe for now, unless they find out glitches cause earthquakes – in which case, Silicon Valley is definitely screwed.


Had you heard about the supposed carbon monoxide expansion? Are you prepared if and when an earthquake does hit?




Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.