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Earthquake Lights and Paranormal Activity 

Orbs. Will-o-the-wisps. Bogeys. Mysterious lights that float erratically, sending chills up the spine as they seem to move with their own intelligence. The stuff of ghost stories, right?

Yes. But it's also the stuff of seismo-electromagnetics. Anecdotal accounts of unusual lights before and during earthquakes have been around for centuries, but in recent years those stories are getting second looks. They are not only being taken more seriously as valid experiences during earthquakes, but are also being studied as possible precursors which can give an early warning before a quake strikes.

Interest in earthquake lights was renewed in the mid-1960s when a series of photographs showing unusual glows and other luminescent phenomena were snapped in Japan during a lengthy earthquake swarm in Matsushiro. The quakes went on for two years, and several photos of apparently related light phenomena were snapped during that time. Light displays in the sky that resembled auroral activity were also reported ahead of the disastrous Tangshan earthquake in China in the 1970s.

Years later during the Kobe quake in Japan, there were reports of a fire that seemed to run along the ground and stretch into the sky, while other witnesses saw a mysterious glowing object (Kamogawa, 2004).  Incidents related to other quakes give the lights a more definite shape as well: during the Lincolnshire, Britain earthquake of 2008 for example, one witness saw what appeared to be ball lightning coming across the room, which she claims went out like a light. Other witnesses reported lightning-like flashes, which some mistook for a thunderstorm. (Louth Leader).

But pictures don't tell the whole story. Some videos and still pictures purporting to show earthquake lights may in fact show other phenomena, such as street lights coming on or light refractions from ice crystals in the atmosphere.  If taken during an earthquake, the photos may show flashes from transformers arcing or rupturing. It doesn't help that the accounts of what earthquake lights look like, and how they behave, vary so widely.

Relying strictly on physical phenomena, researchers have quickly run out of options for finding a single mechanism to explain the phenomena.  Here are a few which have been suggested: a piezoelectric effect caused by stress within the fault zone; ionization from radon (which can, however, be directly linked both to other quake activity and paranormal activity; see Radon and Spirit Activity), triboluminescence from rocks rubbing against each other, and expulsion of methane gas.

The argument offered against these explanations is that most of the mechanisms simply can't produce the energy needed for visible luminescent phenomena. In the cases of both piezoelectric and triboluminescent models, most of the rocks involved would insulate against electricity, and so absorb any currents produced by ground activity before any sort of discharge.

 Methane gas might explain some of the reports of lights both before and, more reasonably, during an earthquake (when pockets of trapped gas could be expected to rush from the ground and possibly ignite because of friction in the moving rock), but large quantities of methane are not widely distributed enough in all of the areas where earthquake lights are reported to explain all of the sightings. And while radon ionization can play an important role in pre-seismic atmospheric activity, as well as paranormal activity (See Radon and Spirit Activity) it does not work as a model in this case because not nearly enough radon could be released to provide the amount of ionization needed for visible lights.

Yet how can so many eyewitness reports be dismissed?

A new model for pre-seismic activity offers the best hope for a strictly physical explanation. Under the defect electron propagation model (Freund, 2004) excessive electric charges could accumulate in rocks under high stress. This would be especially true for rocks formed by water-saturated magma.

In laboratory models rocks placed under increasing amounts of stress showed proportional charge increase, culminating in a pulse just before critical failure. This theory works well with efforts to detect imminent quake strike zones through satellite observations of temperature changes in fault zones, and would explain increased IR radiance in fault zones ahead of large quakes (Ouzounov, 2006). Such strong increases in electrical current might be expected to create lights if there was a sudden discharge. However, Freund and a co-researcher specifically described in a poster presentation at the International Workshop on Seismo-Electromagnetics in 2005 that:

            "... We do not yet understand how a high density charge

                cloud that formed a given source volume can burst out and

                expand as a form of solid state plasma." (St Laurent, Freund, 2004)


In a 2006 version of the article Freund and co-researcher St. Laurent wrote that they believed the swift movement of defect electrons could cause a corona discharge (St Laurent et al, 2006), but on the whole scientists are being cautious when suggesting a single physical mechanism for earthquake lights to form.

Enter the parascientists. There are a number of reactions occurring both before and during earthquakes which could be linked to manifestation of paranormal activities such as luminescent phenomena.

Fluctuations in electromagnetic fields are associated with paranormal phenomena. Intelligent entities are believed by some investigators to create their own low-level EMF field fluctuations. The question is, what relation, if any, is there between these energetic entities and the electromagnetic field variances associated with earthquakes? Would the entities be attracted to the stronger fluctuating fields of stressed fault zones, and would the entities perhaps be able to draw energy from them?

There are ample models and reports to suggest unusual electro-magnetic field variations in imminent earthquake strike zones. These include reports of anomalies in diurnal magnetic fields (Chen et al), ULF emissions (Hattori et al) alternations in telluric (ground) currents (Duma), variances in Schumann resonances (Hayakawa et al), surges in background noise in both radio and television due to unusual VHF variations (Yamada, et al,) and models showing warping of local electro-magnetic fields to increase intra-cloud lightning strikes (Hayakawa et al).  

Just how much energy can accumultate in a fault zone ahead of an earthquake? Quite a bit, as shown by the increase in temperature which has been clearly viewed in IR wavelengths through space-born observations such as AVHRR data. This temperature change is significant enough to promote algae blooms in coastal areas ahead of large quakes (Singh et al,) as well as visible changes in landlocked areas (Ouzounov et al).  Remember, too, that IR is a form of EM radiation, and if emissions are significant enough to be detected by a satellite over a wide area, they could provide a great energy source for spirits. For more details on why EM absorption could be a preliminary step to manifestation and the mechanisms that could be at work in visible appearances, including visible light wavelength oscillation, please see Anatomy of a Ghost.

In considering whether earthquake lights are a strictly physical phenomenon or whether they may represent a manifestation of a spiritual nature, we should consider the varied descriptions of the lights given through the centuries. While many indicate lightning-like flashes or unusual glows, floating orbs such as the one described in the Lincolnshire quake have frequently been mentioned as well. Orbs were reported in Quebec during earthquake activity in 1988 and 1989 (Ouellet, 1990). Pictures of orbs have also been taken in the seismically-active Tagish Lake area in the Yukon Territory.

The orbs in question are not to be confused with those that have cropped up in photographs even though they are invisible to the naked eye. Those usually have mundane explanations such as pollen granules or water condensation affecting a lens. The orbs associated with earthquakes are actual visible phenomena that may hover anywhere from ground level to high in the sky.

 Let's look at a country where earthquake lights are sighted frequently: Japan. The Matsushiro and Kobe lights mentioned above are part of a long history of reports of earthquake lights. A 1931 study listed approximately 1,500 reports (Musya, 1931) of luminescent phenomena related to the 1930 Idu quake in Japan.

Japanese folklore, rich in supernatural monsters, mentions certain entities directly related to ghosts which bear striking resemblance to lights sighted in conjunction with earthquakes. For example, there is the chochinobake, or lantern ghost. These entities are among a group of supernatural beings which come into existence in an unusual way: they are ordinary objects which come to life after reaching 100 years of age. Therefore, they have the ability to move independently as any sentient being would. The lanterns associated with the chochinobake are of the round sort common throughout Asia... in other words, orbs and slightly elongated ovals.

In some legends, these creatures are given a different role, and instead of actual sentient beings they are considered to be haunted lanterns in which ghosts reside. It is believed that if the lantern is lit, the ghost will become active. Usually this is highly undesirable, because the ghosts forced to resort to such habitations are invariably of a hateful or envious sort, who are unable to move on to the next world.

Another supernatural light associated with ghosts is the hitodama. These are floating flames which are unusual colors such as purple, blue or green, and they are usually seen in pairs with a ghost. Some of the lights reported in conjunction with earthquakes are described in terms of multicolored flames, and certainly aurora-like activity in the sky could be interpreted as a larger version of the hitodama phenomena.

It is also worth noting that in Japanese folklore the kitsune, or fox spirits, are believed to be able to conjure a mysterious ethereal fire or lightning.  Another Japanese being which can conjure fire is the mystical kirin, derived from the qilin found in China, where the creature was also believed to conjure supernatural fires to fight the forces of evil. China, too, has a history of earthquakes, as well as reports of earthquake lights, including the lights associated with the Tangshan earthquake mentioned above.

If these were the only supernatural phenomena that paralleled earthquake lights, it would be tempting to dismiss them as superstitious explanations for natural phenomena. But there are other stories which cannot be so easily dismissed.

As noted in Anatomy of a Ghost, it is possible spirits can manipulate electromagnetic fields enough to develop a static charge, which would draw dust to them and perhaps give them a semblance of physical form. Certainly a floating orb would be a fairly simple shape to manifest in this way, but this scenario also plays well with the Japanese depiction of ghosts in general. While there are several classes of ghosts, or yurei, they frequently share common traits. They are seen as pale figures clothed in white (a color associated with death in Japan).


  A figure outlined and partially filled in by dust particles would certainly appear to be pale, and possibly luminous depending on how ambient lighting played off the dusty figure. Witnesses to spirit manifestations tend to interpret them in a culturally relevant context, so Japanese observers might reasonably interpret such a monochromatic figure as being pale and clothed in the white kimono used to bury the dead.

 More importantly in terms of their appearance, the yurei are believed to float above the ground, and are typically represented as fading to indistinction below the thighs, almost as if they are emerging into existence from a sort of mist or cloud.

A mist or cloud, perhaps, of dust being attracted to a static charge.

There are also Japanese ghosts known as noppera-bo, which are described as faceless human figures which may at first appear to be someone known by the observer, but which lose the distinction of their features after a short time. If an entity is only able to partially manifest due to fluctuations in the energy source it's using (such as fluctuating EMF fields noted in association with pre-earthquake conditions), it might not be able to call up or maintain precise details such as facial features, whereas the more general details such as rough torso shape and rudimentary arms could be visible. Ghosts in Japan are also said to have hands dangling loosely at the end of their arms, which may be yet another indication that precise details are absent in manifestations where there is insufficient source energy.

It is worth paying close attention to the vivid descriptions of paranormal activity and spirit beings in Japan, because the country is constantly under threat of earthquakes due to its location on multiple tectonic plate convergences. The amount of strain and related electromagnetic anomalies within the ground could easily be a prime fuelling mechanism for spirit activity, including manifestation as mysterious lights or luminescent figures. Japan may literally be a heaven for ghost hunters, because it has this potential. Such consistent seismic energy levels are found in few other places.

It is possible, however, that if the spirits are affected by quake activity, they are not trying to manifest as orbs or other forms of light, or as human or semi-human figures. Perhaps the spirits are simply going about their business in their own realm. Rather than deliberately manifesting, perhaps the excessive energy produced as a fault reaches the point of rupture is actually causing them to manifest without any intention on their part. They could be going through a forced oscillation process that brings them to a visible light wavelength.

In Anatomy of a Ghost, we also looked at the possibility that ghost could interact with the Higgs field to gain enough solidity for manifestation and physical activity, such as making noises or moving objects. But it is also possible that the intense levels of energy being produced by pre-earthquake activity are simply causing the Higgs field to interact with the spirits spontaneously, again causing unintentional manifestations.

Earthquake lights may also mark accumulations of energy at places of strong psychic echos. This is linked to residual hauntings, which will be discussed in more detail in the separate section on earthquake-related EMF fields and psychic engrams.

As for the more spectacular displays such as lightning-like flashes or sheets of light produced ahead of or during quakes, it is possible that there is some sort of opening being torn into a world beyond our own, and that for a brief moment that world partially overlaps ours, or is accessible to us. If changes precipitated by earthquake activity cause massless particles to interact with the Higgs field in large quantities, we could certainly expect quite a light show as photons gain mass (and therefore energy) from the Higgs interaction, and then shed that mass (emitting light) to return to their natural state.

The question is still open as to whether ghosts are beings which are entirely on our plane of existence (albeit in a form that generally makes interaction with them difficult), whether they exist in some sort of limbo between this world and the next, or whether they in fact live wholly in that next world but can, willingly or inadvertently, stumble back into our own for brief intervals. Before and during quakes, there are enormous disruptions in the normal electromagnetic fields. Could they be strong enough to rip a breach into a plane of existence where spirits dwell, creating massive flashes of light as they do so?

If ordinary physical processes such as triboluminescence or piezoelectric effects are being discounted as capable of producing these fantastic earthquake lights, perhaps we are seeing something out of the ordinary, an aspect of reality normally invisible to us because we are not naturally involved in that portion of the universe.


 Copyright 2008 by Morgan St. Knight



Chen, C.H.; Liu, J.Y.; Yen, H.Y.; Chen, Y.I.; Yumato, K.: Anomalies in Ranges of Diurnal Geomagnetic Variations Observed During the Chi-Chi Earthquake: presented at International Workshop of Seismo-Electromagnetics,(IWSE), Tokyo, 2005

Duma, Gerald: Earthquake Activity Controlled by the Regular Induced Telluric Current: presented at IWSE 2005

Freund, Friedemann; Takeuchi, Akihiro; Lau, Bobby; Post, Rachel; Keefner, John; Mellon, Joshua; Al-Manaseer, Akthem: Stress-Induced Charges in the Electrical Conductivity of Igneous Rocks and the Generation of Ground Currents: TAO, Volume 15, No. 3, September 2004, 437-467

Hattori, Katsumi; Takahashi, Ichiro; Hayakawa, Masashi; Isezaki, Nobuhiro; Yumoto, Kiyohumi; Nagao, Toshiyasu; Uyeda, Seiya: ULF Magnetic Changes Associated with Crustal Activity: Summary of RIKEN-NASDA Project and the Latest Results: presented at IWSE 2005

Hayakawa, Masashi; Ohta, Kenji; Nickolaenko, Alexander; Ando, Yoshiaki: Anomalous Effect in Schumann Resonance Phenomena Observed in Japan, Possibly Associated with the Chi-Chi Earthquake: poster session, IWSE 2005

Hayakawa, Masashi; Molchanov, O.A.; Nickolaenko, Alexander: Model Variations in Atmospheric Radio Noise Caused by pre-Seismic Modifications of Tropospheric Conductivity Profile: Seismo-Electromagnetics; Lithosphere-Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling: TerraPub, 2003 349-352

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Louth Leader (newspaper), March 11 2008

Musya, K.: On the Luminous Phenomena that Attended the IDU Earthquake, November 6, 1930 Bulletin Earthquake Research Institute: 1931 214-215 (noted; cited as secondary source, direct report not available)

Oullett, Marcell: Earthquake Lights and Seismicity:  Nature, 348 1990  492

Ouzounov, Dimitar; Bryant, Nevin; Logan,  Thomas; Pulinets, Sergey; Taylor, Patrick: Satellite Thermal IR Phenomena associated with some of the major earthquakes 1999-2003: Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 31, 2006, 154-163

St. Laurent, France; Freund, Friedemann: Earthquake Lights and the Stress Activation of Positive Hole Charge Carriers in Rocks: poster session, IWSE 2005

St. Laurent, France; Derr, John; Freund, Friedemann: Earthquake Lights and the Stress Activation of Positive Hole Charge Carriers in Rocks:: Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 31 (2006) 305-312

Singh, Ramesh; Dey, Sagnik ; Bhoi, Sanjeeb; Sun, Donglian; Cervone, Guido; Kafatos, Menas: Anomalous Increase of Chlorophyll Concentrations Associated with Earthquakes: Advances in Space Research, Vol. 37 Issue 4 2006 671-680

Yamada, A; Sakai, K.; Yaji, Y.; Takano, T.; Shimakura, S.: Observations of Natural Noise in VHF Band which Relates to Earthquakes:  Seismo-Electromagnetics; Lithosphere-Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling: TerraPub, 2003 255-257

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