Earthquake lights reported associated with New Zealand event

Flashing lights have been recorded on video supposedly occurring in conjunction with the shaking from this weekend’s strong quake in New Zealand. The strong event occurred just after midnight on Monday and caused massive damage, a small tsunami and several deaths.

We’ve covered EQ lights before and I have done some research on natural anomalies associated with earthquakes. All such reports – lights, sounds, clouds, weather, animal responses – remain questionable and may have other mundane causes. But let’s take a closer look at the latest reports.


From the videos, you can see that the flashes appear like lightning. There are no videos so far of the lights close up and the location of the lights is not discernible from media reports. So we can’t really tell what they represent.

The coverage of EQ lights in relation to this latest event has been widespread, with the idea being spread via viral sites and “earth changes” type websites that emphasize the myteriousness. This piece from “Stuff” New Zealand is not bad providing a good overview of the speculation about EQ lights without making it so mysterious.

Reports of EQ lights are not uncommon after large quakes. Two explanations are proposed for this. First, stronger quakes break electrical wiring and cause transformers to explode, causing the flashes. Second, stronger quakes allow for the build up and release of ionized air from the fault zone that results in a natural electrical discharge. That disruption of electrical lines occurs is a given. Polls fall and transformers explode. So, it’s a very good bet that some of these are reported as EQ lights. The natural electrial discharge from the earth is gaining creedance, however. Several studies have shown local perturbations in the ionosphere associated with large quakes. While there are wide daily fluctuations of total electron content (TEC) of the ionosphere, usual spikes close to the location of forthcoming earthquakes have been detected. This study from 2015 in New Zealand showed such a result:

We mapped TEC in the ionosphere on a spatial grid covering the whole of New Zealand, at half-minute intervals, for several weeks before, and a few days after, four recent major earthquakes – the 2010 Darfield, 2011 Christchurch, 2013 Seddon and 2013 Lake Grassmere earthquakes.

It is likely that in the coming weeks, we may hear if this quake had similar perturbations and how this may relate to the EQ light phenomenon. Or, this TEC phenomena may be different than that which could cause visible and sudden electrical discharges. Some EQ lights are described as a glow on the ground or in the sky. Speculation is that this is related to the piezoelectric effect created in the fault zone or from ionization of the air above the highly stressed bedrock, called the “aerosol effect“. That this doesn’t occur for every earthquake is not unusual since the bedrock and fault stresses will differ for each fault zone. Not all faults behave the same and the geological setting in different, producing different behaviors on the surface as well as subsurface. An observation of reports suggests that rift area such as New Zealand and Japan and areas of normal (extension) faults (such as Canada, eastern US and Europe) are more conductive to EQ lights than areas of reverse (compression) faulting.

Many skeptics are reluctant to call EQ lights a valid phenomena. The failure to confirm the phenomenon is understandable because of the unreliability, irreproducibility and inadequate explanation for it. However, it could be that seismologists haven’t been measuring for it. Now that some researchers are looking for electrical signals of quakes around the world, we may get the reliability and reproducablity and, finally, be able to explain it. It’s less clear if EQ lights can be a reliable predictor but TEC anomalies may be in the future.

Thank you, Robert Vahry for the tip on our Facebook page

More from DN on this topic:
Earthquake lights reported along with Sunday’s Napa event – August 29, 2014
More news on earthquake lights – now the flashing variety – February 26, 2014
Ionospheric phenomena exciting new direction for earthquake prediction – October 24, 2012
New paper on earthquake lights show they are a reality – January 2, 2014

  10 comments for “Earthquake lights reported associated with New Zealand event

  1. Bob Jase
    November 14, 2016 at 11:07 AM

    I’ll check with some relatives down that way and let you know what they saw, if anything.

  2. BobM
    November 14, 2016 at 12:35 PM

    I never saw a thing. Mind you, I was busy trying to stay on my bed which seemed to be vibrating at a different frequency to me. But then the electricity pretty much remained on where I was anyway.

  3. Mike
    November 14, 2016 at 7:12 PM

    May seem a bit obvious but I’ve long been surprised by fellow skeptics’ criticalness about earthquake lights. Of all the weird and wonderful things we’ve learnt about the interplay of the atmosphere and the planet, even in the last few years, the discovery that earthquakes in certain regions induce weird atmospheric light wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    Anyway, what we need is confirmation that there was lightning going on at the time, which I can’t ascertain looking at metservice – weather was quite mild, no apparent storm.

  4. November 14, 2016 at 10:02 PM

    Aside: Don’t be fooled by YouTube videos that show the earthquake in daylight. They are labeled wrong, probably on purpose. This one definitely took place IN THE DARK.

  5. BobM
    November 15, 2016 at 10:23 PM

    It was about 12:03. And it was very dark. There was certainly no bad weather, that came the day after and rather buggered up the clean up a bit. But even then there was no lightning. Just torrential rain. As I said where I live there was no problem with the electricity. So I suspect it may well have something to do with transformers exploding or something. I wasn’t thinking much about that sort of thing at the time, but I did look outside to see whether people had lost power or not. After I stopped bouncing around anyway.

  6. November 17, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    What about triboluminesence from fracturing in the crust? I suppose it would depend on the rocks/crystals present, but is it another possible explanation?

  7. November 17, 2016 at 1:55 PM

    I don’t understand how this occurring at depth would show on the surface or above surface.

  8. Dave
    November 17, 2016 at 9:26 PM

    During the shaking at 00:02, 14 November NZ time, I saw what I thought to be lightning beyond hills to the east of the Hutt Valley, a suburb north of Wellington. I have been trying to find out more about what I saw ever since. Truly strange phenomena.

  9. Travid
    November 18, 2016 at 6:52 PM

    My Wife and I saw Blue flashes in the sky during the earthquake, so did her father.
    Power was out at the time and I thought it was from the lines arcing but I cant say for sure becasue the flashes were seen all over the country.

    We are in Taranaki.

  10. Susan Gerbic
    November 23, 2016 at 1:13 PM

    Skeptoid is a good reference, but Robert Sheaffer has as well. http://badufos.blogspot.com/2014/01/skeptics-and-claims-of-earthquake-lights.html

    I’ve used both on the Wikipedia page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_light

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