Mysterious spike in Carbon Monoxide over California – Precursor to ‘The Big One’

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Anomalic Carbon Monoxide concentrations have reported over California on February 26, 2016.

 What the heck is going on? Could it be a precursor to ‘The Big One’?

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Very large CO spike over Western North America near major geological features on February 26, 2016. Image source: Earth Nullschool.

On February 26, The Global Forecast System model recorded an intense and wide-ranging carbon monoxide (CO) spike over the US West Coast.

This very large CO spike over Western North America occurred near major geological features on February 26, 2016.

A region stretching from British Columbia, through Washington and Oregon, and on over most of California experienced CO readings ranging from about 5,000 parts per billion over the mountains of Southwestern Canada to as high as 40,000 parts per billion over Southern California.

Very high peak readings appear to have occurred from Northern California near Eureka and the southern edge of the Cascadia Subduction Zone and along a line south and eastward over much of Central California to an extreme peak zone just north and west of Los Angeles near Palmdale along the San Andreas Fault Line.

These readings are between 50 and 265 times above typical background CO levels of about 150 parts per billion and up to twelve times higher than second highest peak readings over polluted regions of China during the same period.

So what’s the heck?

Human-based carbon monoxide sources are not generally known to produce spike readings so high and so wide-ranging. Nor are wildfires (of which there were no reports for this region).

The primary suspect for this preliminary observation, therefore, is geological. As the spike occurs over large fault lines, volcanoes, and above other active geological features along the US and Canadian West, it appears that activity within these features may have produced a brief if intense burp of this gas. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) readings — another geological gas — were also elevated, with peak readings again appearing in Southwestern California.

It’s worth noting that no major US or Canadian geological organization has yet made any report on this particularly large CO spike. However, a piece of scientific research in Applied Geochemistry by Ramesh P. Singh shows that major CO and SO2 spikes may be an indication that future earthquake activity is on the way as corroborated by the intense CO spike prior to a 7.6 magnitude earthquake that shook Gujara in 2001 killing 20,000 people.

Singh said that CO levels were taken by an instrument onboard NASA’s Terra satellite — launched in 2009 — circling the earth in a polar orbit at a height of 705 km. The instrument measures CO concentrations at different heights and also computes the total amount of the gas in a vertical column of air above the earth surface.

Analysis of the satellite data showed a large peak in CO concentrations during January 19 and 20 — a week before the main earthquake event. On January 19, the total CO in the vertical column was also higher than usual. After the 26 January earthquake the concentration of the gas dropped.

According to the scientists, CO gas is forced out of the earth due to the build up of stress prior to the earthquake “influencing the hydrological regime around the epicentre.”

The current very large West Coast CO spike near major fault lines remains a bit of a mystery.

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