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Can radon gas leaks predict earthquakes?

An Italian researcher says he predicted Monday's quake. Is his claim credible?

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The earthquake that devastated L 'Aquila, Italy, on Monday casts a spotlight on the challenges scientists face as they try to improve earthquake forecasts.

Specifically, it raises the question of whether the release of radon gases from the ground can accurately predict the arrival of a temblor.

The short answer? Maybe.

Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at Italy's Gran Sasso laboratory, alerted authorities in the region of Abruzzo that a quake was imminent – and was condemned for raising a false alarm. Mr. Giuliani declined requests to be interviewed, and according to his wife, who was also reached by phone Tuesday, is busy working at his lab.

While the details about the timing and location of Giuliani's warning remain fuzzy, he reportedly based his warning on radon emissions that instruments at his lab were picking up.

Abruzzo is not an easy place to test such an approach, according to US scientists. It's a mountainous, quake-prone patch of central Italy that covers nearly 4,200 square miles.

It's about as complex a place geologically as one can imagine, notes Felix Waldhauser, a researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.


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