London: A team of British and Russian scientists have launched a project that could predict when and where earthquakes will occur, and thus save thousands of lives.
An agreement to work together on the project, that was signed in Moscow, says the TwinSat project involves the launch of two satellites - one is about the size of a TV set and the other smaller than a shoebox - which will orbit the earth a few hundred kilometres apart, a newspaper reported.
Data from the satellites will be collated with data from the ground as the scientists try to understand what natural warnings are given prior to earthquakes.
"As stress builds up in the Earth prior to an earthquake, subtle electromagnetic signals are released that can be read from the upper atmosphere," said Alan Smith, director of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at the University College, London.
"We want to try to work out how these signals differ from all the other things that are present at any given time."
The two linked satellites will monitor zones with high seismic and volcanic activity, such as Iceland and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russia`s Far East.
Vitaly Chmyrev, of the Institute of Physics of the Earth, in Moscow, one of the Russian partners, said the possibilities for progress in earthquake research were extremely exciting.
Chmyrev said that in the days leading up to the devastating earthquake in Haiti last year, satellites picked up electromagnetic signals from the area, but they were only analysed afterwards.
This project could be a huge step towards understanding how to read the signals.
"Just imagine if we could have accurately predicted the Haiti earthquake a few weeks before," said Chmyrev.
"Or if we had predicted the Icelandic volcano eruption that paralysed transport routes for weeks. The potential human and economic benefits are enormous."
Peter Sammonds, professor of Geophysics at UCL and another member of the project team, said that because the satellites were so small, the technology was relatively cheap.
"These satellites are absolutely incredible, you can almost hold them in the palm of your hand," he said.
"If the project progresses as we want it to, we`ll be able to send up several more of them to increase coverage."
The first satellite launch is planned for 2015.