Data chart on Wall Street Data chart on Wall Street Researchers have discovered that earthquake-like events can be detected by using Wall Streets Relative Strength Index. (Photo: Scanrail1/Shutterstock)

Can Wall Street predict an earthquake?

Collecting geological data the way stock traders collect financial data might be the key to detecting 'the Big One.'

Forget financial earthquakes. A new specialized system used by stock traders can detect actual earthquakes.

This was the conclusion of a study led by an international team – American researcher Brendan Crowell, Israeli researcher Yehuda Boch and Chinese researcher Zhen Liu.

Stock traders have long used specialized trackers to decide when to buy or sell a stock, or when the market is beginning to make a sudden swing. The three researchers found that the same technique can be used to detect gradual movement of tectonic plates, called "slow slip" earthquakes. While researchers are still learning about slow slips, it's believed their activity can help predict major earthquakes.

The geologists looked at the Wall Street's Relative Strength Index (RSI), which charts the current and historical strength or weakness of a stock. What they discovered was the using an RSI method could also detect slow slips in the Earth. As to how the team settled on the RSI, it's actually simpler than you may think.

“I’ve always had an interest in finance, and if you go to any stock ticker website there’s all these different indicators,” said lead author Crowell, a research scientist in earth and space sciences at the University of Washington.

“This particular index stood out in its ease of use, but also that it needed no information – like stock volume, volatility, or other terms – besides the single line of data that it analyzes for unusual behavior.”

Slow slips don't release enough energy to be detected in the same way that major earthquakes are. Instead it takes several Global Positioning System stations and a complex data processing system to do so. But by using the RSI technique, the researchers were able to detect and collect data from a single GPS station.

A map of the Cascadia Subduction ZoneThe researchers used their methodology to study the Cascadia Subduction Zone – the most-studied slow slip area in the world – to validate their methodology. (Photo: FEMA)

The study tested the method on more than 200 GPS stations that recorded slow slips between 2005 and 2016 along the Cascadia fault zone, which runs from northern California up to northern Vancouver Island.

“Looking at the Cascadia Subduction Zone – which is the most-studied slow slip area in the world – was a good way to validate the methodology,” Crowell said.

The results showed that data on the duration and travel distance for major slow slip events collected from one GPS station, match the results of much more exhaustive analyses of observations along the fault.

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