According to an article in the English-language website of China News Service (CNS), posted Thursday, April 3th, China will launch a polar-orbiting satellite that will seek to detect earthquake "precursor" signals in the electrical, magnetic, and related properties of the ionosphere in 2016. The satellite is designed to take in situ measurements with a magnetometer, electric field detector, an energetic particle sensor, plasma analyzer, and additional sensors. The project features close Chinese-Italian cooperation, and the article says that Chinese scientists have been working closely with scientists from France, Italy, Russia, and Ukraine who have been working in "seismo-electromagnetic" studies. Read more here.
The ultimate goal is to detect precursor signals prior to earthquakes, and use these signals as part of an earthquake forecasting system.
This is of extreme importance, given the coming solar phase, and the increased earthquake activity in the Pacific Rim over the past month. Both Chile and the Pacific Coast of the United States have had increased activity, and the activity off the U.S. Pacific Coast has sparked concern over a major earthquake in the "Cascadia subduction zone," would could spawn devastating tsunamis at the coast of Washington, Oregon, and/or Northern California. As the Communities Digital News reported March 17,
"A large 6.8 magnitude earthquake with dozens of aftershocks struck off the Northern California coast 50 miles west of Eureka on March 10, 2014. It didn't create a tsunami or widespread damage, so few in the region paid much attention to it. They should have. Unbeknownst to most people in the Pacific Northwest, they are in grave danger. The Pacific Northwest is 71 years overdue for an immense 8.4 or larger earthquake, and tens of thousands of lives are at risk."
Farther inland, a swarm of smaller earthquakes has accompanied the recent 4.8 tremor that hit in Yellowstone. The concern there is that these could be signs that Yellowstone's supervolcano might be waking up. Although very infrequent, a full-scale eruption from Yellowstone's supervolcano would be almost unimaginable — devastating everything within a 500-mile radius, and causing global climatic effects. There are also stories of bison and other animals "fleeing" the park — furthering concern, as animals have shown signs of sensitivity to seismic activity and seismic precursors.
WATCH: LPAC'S Preview: Super Volcanoes in Wyoming
It should also be noted that we're about to enter the half of the solar cycle which has been shown to be associated with more major earthquakes. In 2011 a Japanese research paper showed that shallow earthquakes, especially larger ones, occur more frequently during the declining half and minimum of the solar cycle, as opposed to the ascending half and maximum (see, "Possible Correlation between Solar Activity and Global Seismicity," Yumoto et al.). Today we are at the end of the maximum, and about to start the decline (as seen in these graphs, http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/). Based on the evidence of the past four solar cycles, the coming period could be more likely to see large earthquakes (compared with the past five or six years).