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Can Humans Cause Earthquakes and Use Them As Weapons? We'll Probably Find Out Soon Enough

Once the topic of arcane science, defense research and conspiracy theories, wider questions emerge on the role humans played in recent earthquakes.

Last year, one of the most deadly earthquakes on record devastated China, killing over 80,000 people and rendering millions homeless. Yet last month, reports surfaced stating that the 8.0 magnitude Great Sichuan Earthquake could have possibly been induced not by Earth but its people. Particularly, the ones that decided to build the 4-year-old Zipingpu reservoir, which held 320 million tons of water, near a major fault line.

It is rumored that Chinese geologist Geng Qingguo, who reportedly predicted the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, had sent a letter to China's Premier Wen Jiabao predicting the same for Sichuan. Evidently, he had been talking about it for months, years depending on who you read, but to no avail.

Of course, Geng is no Nostradamus, just a geologist with a firm grasp of what scientists in his discipline refer to as induced seismicity, basically earthquakes created by humanity. Currently, there are only a few ways humans can conventionally make earthquakes: Fossil fuel, groundwater or mining extractions, and erecting massive structures like buildings or dams.

"Dams have been implicated in reservoir-induced seismicity, and there is a vigorous debate whether Zipingpu dam may have triggered the Wenchuan Earthquake," explained Nicholas Sitar, professor of geoengineering and an expert on seismology at the University of California, Berkeley, who traveled to Sichuan to study the 2008 quake.

"However, the larger picture is that strain has been building up in that region, and the quake was probably overdue. Of course, we do not know if the outcome would be any different if the quake happened a few years from now on its own. In most recent quakes, the difference in the magnitude of the loss of life had more to do with time of the day than anything else. In Wenchuan, the schools were in full session when they collapsed."

Fair enough, but concern, and conspiracy theory, is mounting that humanity is intent on weaponizing earthquakes through means other than gross negligence or good intentions. Or already has.

Much of the controversy originates with the visionary scientist Nikola Tesla, whose revolutionary accomplishments in the fields of electricity and magnetism has since paved the way for everything from wireless communication and power to robotics, ballistics, nuclear physics and much more, including, for our purposes, telegeodynamics.

"It becomes possible to convey mechanical effects to the greatest terrestrial distances and produce all kinds of unique effects of inestimable value to science, industry and the arts," Tesla explained to reporters at his 79th birthday gathering in 1935 at the Hotel New Yorker, during which he also unveiled his plans for he described as "controlled earthquakes." Of course, he forgot to mention the "inestimable value" such an invention would have for the American military, who Tesla courted more than once with remote-controlled or directed-energy weaponry, but probably not by accident.

Two days after Tesla died in 1943, the government confiscated all of his papers, and the FBI declared them classified until further notice. That notice still stands.

"Rumors and Tesla go together," says journalist, humorist and author Tom McNichol, who wrote about Tesla's public feud with Thomas Edison in AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War. "Tesla was the mad genius, equal parts madness and genius. Whenever anyone comes up with a superweapon, they usually say it is inspired by him. And though he was interested in beam weapons, telegeodynamics, death rays and more, he died almost penniless. But never rule anything out. I bet you when one of these weapons comes to fruition, Tesla's hand will be in there somewhere."

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