Interview with Marsha Adams
By David Jay Brown
Adams, at the Time Research Institute in San Francisco, developed sensors
that measure low-frequency electromagnetic signals, which, she says, allow
her to predict earthquakes with over 90% accuracy. Adams set up a network
of electromagnetic sensors along some of the major faultlines in
California, and from the input she receives--which Is analyzed by
specialized computer software--she issues weekly earthquake forecasts.
Adams suspects that low-frequency electromagnetic signals-created by the
fracturing of crystalline rock deep In the earth along fault lines can
have biological consequences, and that her instruments are picking up the
same signals that sensitive animals do.
As a result of this
technology--which is supported by private subscription, not public
funds--Adams says that her system makes unusual animal behavior
observations obsolete. However, since It has not been clearly determined
what it Is that the animals are picking up on, complete confidence in the
electromagnetic sensors may be premature, and Adamsí 90% accuracy claim
hasnít been confirmed by an Independent study.
As part of my research with
Dr. Rupert Sheldrake we subscribed to Adamsí
service for four months. Since there werenít any earthquakes during this
period we canít confirm her accuracy rating.
However, she didnít make
any false predictions. Adamsí work deserves more serious attention, and
further support for her belief Is provided in the section below on
electrical field theory.
This interview with
Marsha occurred in 1997.
How did your career focus switch from biological research to studying
When I was doing research at Stanford Medical School I had some
experiments that I couldn't repeat, and some variability in the data that
I couldn't explain. I was using chick embryo hearts-- from four day old
chick embryos. These embryos were so tiny that had to be dissected under
the microscope. We actually had to anchor the hearts with human hairs to
string gauges in the basement of the building, because the vibrations from
being on the upper floor of the building would swamp the effects that we
were looking for, which was the contraction of these little hearts.
At about three to six days
a chick embryo is nothing but really a blood spot with a little pumping
heart. So, we were looking at how cardio-active drugs work, and we were
testing drugs are used on the market today, and were in use then. Some of
these drugs were supposed to stimulate the heart, and from time to time we
would have days were the drugs didn't stimulate the heart, and we couldn't
figure out why. I essentially dismantled the laboratory, and put it back
together again, thinking, gee, maybe the stock solutions were bad or
something of that nature. I even got as far out as thinking that the air
solution that we bubbled through-an isolated muscle preparation-- to
oxygenate the muscle had settled out, and that the heavier carbon dioxide
had gone to the bottom.
But that's really grasping
at straws, and nothing I could do would change that. Sometimes they just
simply refused to work. But if I sat around long enough they would start
to work again. It's kind of like when your car doesn't work right, and you
take it to the repair shop, and all of a sudden it works fine. It's the
same type of phenomenon. If I sat around long enough the experiment would
start to work again.
So after going through
several episodes of this I began to wonder what was going on, and I came
to the conclusion that there was something in the environment that had a
very strong effect on biological processes that we biologists were not
accounting for in our experiments. I became very curious as to what that
was, began reading up on it, and came to the opinion that the most likely
candidate would be low frequency electromagnetic fields. I became more
interested in so-called control experiments, looking at the variability
that you get when you do nothing to a biological experiment-- looking at
the variability that just occurs anyway.
How did you study that?
I studied it in several different ways. I started collecting large data
bases, at both the micro and the macro end of things, if you will. One of
the other things that I did when I was at Stanford was animal surgery, and
I experienced the same things with that basically.
On some days you'd see a
lot of bleeding, and other days you'd see like no bleeding at all, even
repeating things in the same animals. So I started collecting large
databases. I collected 10,000 cases of surgical bleeding. I collected some
human behavioral data eventually. I looked at crime statistics. I looked
the incidence of deaths. I also looked at something called the
humaticrit-- which is the percentage of red blood cells in the blood-- and
looked at day-to-day variability.
While I was collecting
these databases my plan was to-- and I did-correlate these with a lot of
commercial, and not commercially, but federally available data sets of
solar terrestrial data. But in the mean time I was giving an in-service at
a clinic. I left Stanford and became the research director of a medical
clinic. I was giving an in-service to the staff there, and said, gee, you
know it's kind of strange that...
You remember last Thursday,
when we had that high amount of bleeding?
This was followed by an
earthquake. Isn't that curious?
And they saw that that
wasn't all that happened. We noticed that the patients were having more
allergic reactions to the drugs, and there even seemed to be a lot of
chaos in the operating room. The doctors were dropping instruments. The
patients were hard to manage. They were emotional. So and so forth. And
they said, gee, we think we can predict earthquakes by looking at the
behavior of the operating room. So I said, well, if you think you can, you
tell me the next time that happens. When it happened again they told me,
and sure enough another earthquake followed.
So with that I started to
become more interested in looking at earthquakes, and including them in
the data that I was screening and collecting at the time. "One of those
days" is what would happen. So people became very interested having a
place to report when they had some of the symptoms. And these were very
clear symptoms. This was not psychic. It wasn't intuitive or anything of
that sort. It was just clear malaise basically. People having headaches
and acting irritable. That's when I started looking at the crime
statistics and things like that.
What did you notice about the crime statistics?
I did a lot of statistics screening. I think it was probably about at
least six weather variables, and six geophysical variables. I found that
correlations were easy to find. I think there were about twelve crime
categories. I was particularly interested in the violent and spontaneous
crimes. I found routinely that although the crime levels seemed to
correlate with weather variables, the correlations to the geophysical
variables, like the geomagnetic index, was stronger. And I found
correlations to the geophysical variables more often than with the weather
variables, with which we're more familiar.
And I did look at the
incidence of earthquakes with regards to these data sets. Not as thorough
as I would have liked to, but there was some indication that there was a
connection there too. Seeing that both the medical data bases, and some of
the human behavioral data bases, seemed to reflect odd activity at around
the times of earthquakes, kind of stoked the fire, as far as my original
hypothesis being correct of something electromagnetic in the environment.
I came to the idea that there was probably a direct connection between the
electromagnetic environment and earthquakes, and that earthquakes might
even be contributing to the measurements that people make, which were
thought at the time to be just strictly of solar origin.
What was the sample of people that you were using then? Was this just the
people at this medical clinic, or was there a larger sample?
Well, it started out with that, and one day I ended up with much more. I
kind of straddled this medical clinic job and SRI at the same time. During
the transition I worked at both places for awhile. I was on the governor's
earthquake preparedness task force, and the head of the task force had
become familiar with my work. He was impressed by it, and leaked it to the
So I ended up on the front
page of the San Francisco Chronicle one morning, without even knowing
about it, and as you know how things leapfrog, I ended up with people
calling me saying that they also had symptoms from all over the world. And
I did set up a hot line, and ran it for awhile with people calling in,
mostly from the United States, and mostly from California, but basically
from all over the United States.
So although I started with
people in the clinic, my sample grew.
How did this lead up to the animal experiments that you were doing with
Bill Kautz back in the seventies regarding earthquake prediction?
Actually it didn't lead up to it at all. These were totally different
studies. He and I had known each other for quite some time through SRI,
being that we both worked there, and he was interested in earthquakes. He
was interested in exploring the Chinese legends. The fact that the Chinese
reported that they had used animals to forecast earthquakes. He wanted to
quantify that, and was able to get a grant from the United States
Geological Survey to set up a hot line call-in situation, where he could
compare the number of call-ins to subsequent earthquakes. I did some
statistics for Bill Kautz. I did some of the data analysis very late in
What did his work involve?
He had a hot line, and a number of volunteers throughout California that
observed their pets. And whenever they noticed anomalous behavior they
would call into his hot line and describe it-give the date, time, and
description of the anomalous behavior. Then he would look for subsequent
earthquakes, and he did find a statistically significant change in the
animal behavior reports prior to some earthquakes.
How many volunteers were involved in this?
I would say it was over a hundred, but I'm really not certain of that
number. The study ran for around a year or two, something like that, and
he did get positive results. But the USGS decided not to fund it, and not
to continue it, even though he had positive results.
Did they say why?
They may have told him why. I think they just thought that they had better
things to do I guess, in spite of the fact that they never have had any
What do you think causes the unusual animal behavior, the headaches, and
irritability that people report prior to earthquakes?
I think they're reactions to low-frequency electromagnetic signals. I
think the electromagnetic fields are bio-active; that there is a
biological effect to some frequencies, although maybe not all frequencies.
If you look at the literature you can see that whether an organism or a
biological process responds to electromagnetic energy, depends on the
intensity and the frequency. It has to be right within a specific window
in order to get a response. So I strongly suspect that it is a response to
the electromagnetic energy.
Now, this is what you're measuring. How do you measure Low Frequency
This is a privately funded research project, so I'm not at liberty to
divulge what we would call trade secrets at this point in time. I'm happy
to answer many questions, but I can't talk about the sensors, the
technology, the range, how many sensors, that kind of thing. I can
certainly talk about our performance, and the forecasts, and things like
Tell me about the performance and your success rate.
Okay. We've been monitoring the m-field since 1981, and have a long data
base. During that time we have received large signals prior to 93% of all
of the earthquakes in California equal to or greater than magnitude 5.7,
and since the Loma Prieta earthquake it's been 100%.
Do you get false alarms?
There have been some false alarms. There was one period when we had a
series of false alarms that drove me nuts. It turned out that it was
during a period when St. Helen's was erupting. Evidently the system was
picking up some of the e-m-energy that St. Helen's was emitting. So that
was our main period of false alarms. We have had from time to time a
couple of others. Not long false alarms, but, you know, gee, here's
something that looks very suspicious, and that didn't produce an
earthquake. But for the most part the system has been pretty accurate.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from the USGS with regard to your
It depends on who you talk to. There's one person there who really knows
about the system, and has actually seen some of the data, and he's very
impressed. There are other people who are there doing earthquake
forecasting research, and I think that they feel very competitive with any
outsider that comes in with a new and different idea. So they react in a
way that one would expect a person who feels competitive to react.
Have you ever approached them in a cooperative manner, and asked them for
Yes. I've written two proposals that were turned down on related topics. I
attempted to get one of the main researchers interested in the work by
sending him letters, and saying, I can't tell you about the technology,
but let me share some of the impressions that are going on here with you.
I wrote several letters. I found it was not a very fulfilling experience
because the letters were misinterpreted.
With a success rate as high as the one you report, I have a very hard time
understanding why they would just completely push it aside, when so much
is at stake.
Yeah, that is true. I find it difficult to believe too. I did this in
about 1991, when I was just transitioning over to making my routine
forecasts. It was at the end of the development period, and at the
beginning of the actual production forecasting, if you will. It's still
experimental. But I don't know, it's just that every contact that I've had
with them has been discouraging.
Did you have those success rate figures that you quoted me back in 91?
I had the figures, but there were fewer earthquakes. So it was high, but
it wasn't as high. Because, you see, we've had thirty earthquakes in that
time span, or a thirty earthquake series approximately, and at that time
there had only been about maybe 15 earthquake series. So I basically
missed one, and possibly two earthquakes. But one of the problems in the
early development is-because I didn't have enough sensors and still
don't-- I can't tell exactly where they're going to be, but I can tell if
they're going to be in California.
You can calculate a
statistical probability on whether a forecast will become true by
accident, and you can tell if somebody's got something or not. I mean, in
the very early stages, you don't expect a baby to jump out of the womb,
and hit the floor running. It's got to learn to breath, and crawl, and go
through all those stages. It's the same thing with any kind of early
research. If it doesn't come out in the final form, it comes out in bits
and pieces. The first bit was identifying signals that preceded a large
earthquake in California.
I chose that rather odd 5.7
figure because statistically California has about one of those a year. So
even if we see a precursor coming for a month, and we make a forecast for
a month's time, the chances are only one in twelve that I would hit that
particular month accurately. The odds are against my being able to
successfully pick the right month in which the earthquake would occur.
And, of course, if you repeatedly have successes the chances get smaller
and smaller and smaller that you're just doing this by throwing darts at a
map and calendar.
You can very easily
calculate the odds of whether or not this process that I'm doing of
watching the signals is something that's just random.
So this is the validation.
But many scientists you find have a similar attitude to Galileo. This
happened to Galileo. If you're a commercial person, if you've had no other
alternative, if you can't get government funding to do a project, and
you've gone and gotten private funding there are scientists that will not
look at your data, unless you tell them exactly what the mechanisms are--
which nobody knows- and what the technology is.
So if you can't reveal the technology, then you can't have the results
published in a scientific journal.
That's right. So it's a Catch-22 situation. It's something that many of
the scientists are quite well aware of. They say if someone won't publish
it in a journal then we won't look at it.
But you can get around that by just publishing the data on the prediction.
Yeah, and I have done that. I gave a talk at Stanford back in 1991, and I
did publish my statistical methodology. I published the results to date,
and that publication's essentially been ignored.
Where was it published?
In The Journal for Scientific Exploration.
Have insurance companies expressed any interest in your work?
Well, I have not done marketing per say. I find that because this is such
a small organization that I'm just always pressed for time, and I have
chosen to spend my time doing research and development rather than
marketing. It's always a very difficult choice to make, because you're
constantly balancing not having enough funding to get the
equipment-computers and things like that-- versus analyzing the incoming
data. For instance, keeping up with that, and doing the statistics that
you need to do in order to do marketing. I mean, it's a humungous job for
a small organization, and you're just always behind the power curve is
what happens. So rather than going to the media, which I think you can
understand if you do that, you end up spending an awful lot of time doing
Sitting on the telephone and doing interviews, like we're doing now.
Well, I don't mind it. Occasionally that's fine. But there are some people
who have a success, and they run out to the media, and people get pretty
tired of them first of all.
So, I guess you're saying that no insurance company ever found out about
your research, and called you out of the blue?
Well, I don't think they know about me. I have had publicity, but I have
not promoted publicity. I've chosen to just do the work, and get to the
place where I feel in a good and comfortable position. I think I'm very
close to that now, where I have the statistics all nice and tied up in a
package. But it's just a humungous effort to get to that place. To keep
all the plates spinning at the same time is a real challenge.
I would think that the insurance companies would be the first to express
an interest. They don't have any ego involvement; they're just concerned
with the bottom line.
Yeah. Well, insurance companies too, I think, are more interested in
longer-term forecasting than short-term forecasting.
There's also a little bit
of difficulty with a mindset, you might call it. People have been so
convinced that earthquake forecasting is not possible, that they don't
dare to even dream about what they could do if they had earthquake
forecasting. So, when I talk to people I repeatedly hear them say, well,
okay, if I had a forecast, so what? You know, what can I do with it? Of
course, having given a lot of thought to this myself, I'm always a little
incredulous with response. But it's a very normal and natural response.
What are the people who are funding your research doing with your
They use them for their businesses and personally.
So, if there's a high percentage chance that this month there's going to
be an earthquake, on a practical level, what would I really do
Okay, the system works this way. We get a long term warning, and then we
get a short-term warning. So we can see it's coming. It's kind of like an
ocean wave, like a huge tidal wave, or a tsunami. When you see it off
shore, you can see maybe that there's a real big wave out there, but you
can't tell how far away it is, because it's not close enough for your
binocular vision to kick in. But you can see it, and so that would be the
equivalent of the first warning. Then you watch it, and you watch it, and
you watch it. And finally it gets close enough that you can start getting
some triangulations, and getting some good data points.
Then you can start
calculating about when it might hit the beach. It's the same kind of thing
with the earthquake. We see the signals, and we watch, and we watch, and
we watch, until we begin to see some changes that are consistent with
eminent activity. So how people use this is that they use the long-term
warning to get basically prepared. We give out to all the people who
support the research a list of things to do at different stages. So for
the long-term warning, we never know how long we have. We just know that
it's not going to be in the next few days.
People can check their
battery supply. They can check to see that their cans goods are still
okay. They can be sure and keep gasoline in their cars.
There's just a number of
things that people and businesses can do.
Businesses, for instance,
can hold disaster drills during this time period to refresh people's
memories. Then when the earthquake gets imminent, within a few days,
sometimes we have some false alarms for this time period. We always warn
people because the system isn't quite perfected, but it does almost always
happen on one of these periods. We might go through a couple practice
ones. At the end of the period, when we see it imminent, we start picking
dates, and saying okay, we believe its going to be this date. We're still
watching the data, but this is the target date, and sometimes we'll get
maybe within a day of that target date, and push it up a little bit
farther until we finally settle on a date, like we did with Northridge.
So during that time you
behave a little bit differently. You might want to avoid freeways.
Depending on your situation at work, if you work in high-rise, you might
not want to be in a high-rise in the location that's earthquake prone.
Some high-rises are better than others.
What area of California has the very highest frequency of earthquakes?
That's a very good question. You know, I can tell you it changes over
time. Certainly, the Mojave desert has been very very active lately. Of
course, with the desert hot springs and the landers aftershocks series
Mammoth lakes and the geysers are probably some of the most active areas,
but they don't seem to have large earthquakes there.
What are some of the heavily populated areas that are especially prone?
All of Los Angeles, and the Hayward Fault is of great concern. I think
that those are the probably the two biggest concerns. There's so many
faults underlying Los Angeles. They've recently found thrust faults right
under the city that they didn't know about before. So the whole LA basin
and surrounding area, I think, is of probably the most concern in
California. The Hayward Fault is also great concern. There are hospitals
that are built right on the fault. The San Andreas on the peninsula is
also of pretty strong concern. So, I think those are the key areas.
What do you think is causing the electromagnetic signals that you're
Well, nobody really knows. There have been several theories proposed.
Water flowing, the dilitentsy theory. The one I like the best is based on
the experiments done in laboratories. At the Colorado division of mines
and geology Bran Brady did some experiments putting crystalline rock under
hydraulic pressure. And just before the rock fractures it emits a burst of
electromagnetic activity, a very broad spectrum, including light. And they
have seen peruses of light around the core samples at the time that it
fractures. So the theory that I'm partial to is that you're seeing the
evidence of crystalline rock fracturing deep in the earth along the fault
lines. But there are other theories that other people also like.
Are there other methods, or combinations of methods, besides monitoring
electromagnetic signals, that you also think show promise for predicting
Nobody has ever claimed reproducible success with any other method. There
has been somebody from the USGS who was looking at the incidence, I think,
of small earthquakes along near Hollaster, and had some success
forecasting slightly larger earthquakes. But that section of the fault is
fairly anomalous, in that it's always slipping and moving, where other
faults are not doing that. So whether that technique is transferable to
other faults is in question, And the man I don't believe has been doing
this for a long enough time to really say that this always happens, but
I'm not too sure. I just read one article about it
Let's put it this way, the
USGS at Parkfield has the string gauges.
They've got creep meters
and lasers down there. They're hooked into GPS system. You may want to
check into the accuracy of my statement here, but they have issued some
earthquake warnings down there, and to my knowledge they've never been
based on readings from their instruments.
They were the result of
statistical probabilities based on past earthquakes. Past earthquake
activity has statistically been followed by other larger earthquakes. All
of the alerts that they have issued have been because there's already been
an earthquake, and not because of instrumentation. You may want to check
me on that, because I'm not privy to all of their data. But I know that's
true for a very high percentage, if not all .
If I gave you all the funding and manpower that you needed, what type
prediction system would you ideally set up?
Ah. Boy, that's a great question. Well, I would use it to first of all
deploy a lot more sensors. Probably all over the western U.S. to start,
and all over parts of the world.
Right now you're just measuring in California?
California and vicinities. I go up a little bit into Oregon, especially
the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, just offshore.
Occasionally we pick up
something around the Vancouver Island area, but it's not reliable like
California. We need much more staffing, programmers, statisticians,
engineers, to really make this system work in a refined way, to refine the
system that we have right now. We need a lot more computers, higher speed
computers. I'm maxed out on the programming language that I use. I've used
up the capacity of the programming language and the computer's. It takes
hours to run a forecast now, because I'm using-- by modern standards--
fairly slow computers, and just software capabilities.
Let's say we were able to put the ideal prediction system into place, now
how would California benefit?
Mainly by saving lives and property. Most of the deaths that occur in
earthquakes are simply because people are in the wrong place at the wrong
time. If you could get people into safer, better places, you would
automatically save most of the lives that are lost in an earthquake. At
the Japan-U.S. conference I learned that, in California anyway, the
freeways killed most of the people, and also some unsafe buildings. In
Japan most of the deaths occurred in single-family houses that were not
well built, that's not the case in California, but there are some
buildings that are not well built, and people should know about those
buildings. The University of California for instance, their buildings are
I guess. And they know it. But those people who work in those buildings
would benefit from a reliable earthquake forecast. It would take a highly
reliable system, because you'd have to weigh the economics of evacuating,
or having people stop work. There's tremendous economic consequences in
taking these measures, So you'd have to get it to the point were it was
reliable within hours; a specific day and reliable within hours. And tell
people not to come to work. But also tell them what to do. That has to go
hand-in-hand with a forecasting system, because if people don't know what
to do they panic, and that could be a major liability. But if people feel
that they're in control, and if they have something to do that they feel
they can mitigate the circumstance, then they get busy and do it. Then you
don't have this, for the most part, these Panic factors.
Take the day off work and celebrate with an earthquake party.
Great. I think that's a wonderful idea. Yes, not going to work, taking
alternative routes, avoiding, on your way to wherever you do have to go.
Filling your bathtub with water, for instance, is another thing.
Sometimes it takes months
to get water back. Sometimes it takes weeks, but if you do have spare
water on hand, you're all the better off for it. You certainly won't
mitigate a month's worth of a lack of water with a bathtub, but it'll
certainly be very helpful in the first few days after an earthquake.
Because systems do get in place; maybe a week later they'll have systems
bringing in water and so on. But in the first few days you'll have to
figure you're on your own.
So that can save lives and
property. It all depends so much where you are in relation to the
earthquake, and how badly you're damaged. If you're in a place where
you're on the periphery, you might benefit from watering your landscape,
for instance. Then if your water goes out for a few days, you've saved
probably thousands of dollars worth of landscaping. If you're right at the
epicenter, well, forget it. But there are just numerous things to do
mainly to get people out of harm's way, and to get emergency response
teams into the area.
You can bring emergency
response teams into an area, or have them on standby. You could bring
equipment in. You can bring supplies in advance of the earthquake. So much
depends on timing right after an earthquake.
If you have somebody who's
bleeding, and you get to them with a few minutes or hours, you could save
their life, But if they sit there for three days then it's fatal. So to
have some control over the timing and access to supplies. Fires-- to bring
in mutual aid in advance would be very beneficial in saving property, and
most of the damage. A lot of the damage in dollars is due to fires, and
not directly to the earthquake.
And to have people do some
fire damage mitigation before the earthquake.
They could shut off their
gas supplies. But that's pretty drastic, and you have to have a very
highly reliable system in order to take those drastic measures. You could
close down bridges, and not have people in high-rise buildings. But it
could just save billions of dollars, especially in the fire mitigation,
and literally thousands of lives.
What are you currently working on?
It's very mundane. I'm working on getting some marketing material
together. I'm in the position that I have so many ideas that I want to
test and I want to do. My head is just full of ideas, and it's
tremendously frustrating because working in such a small capacity there's
just no way that I can try to implement all of them. So I just kind of
plod along, and test one idea after another. I have a huge backlog of
ideas on how I might make the system better.
I write all of my own
software, and to test and implement these ideas it usually requires
writing another piece of software, and then after I've done that then I've
got to test it, and see if that was a good or a bad idea. There are always
some of each. So that's mainly what I do is I produce forecasts. That
takes two days a week, and the rest of the time, the other five days, I
usually work on weekends, I spend in development, and most of the activity
is writing or running software.
There are three levels of
people who are research supporters: personal, small business, and
corporate. The personal, which receives one five-page forecast every week
is $30 for the month. Small business contributors are $150 a month because
they cover more people. For the corporate we ask $1000 a month.
Adams can be reached at:
Time Research Institute
P.O. Box 620198
Woodside, CA 94062