Interview with James Berkland
by David Jay Brown
James Berkland is a geologist who worked for the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) from 1973 to 1994. He is well-known for his controversial earthquake prediction methods that include calculating the number of missing pets ads in the newspapers of earthquake-prone areas.
Berkland’s interest in geology began as a child, as he says his dad was a “rock-hound”. After earning his BA in Geology at U.C. Berkeley in 1958 he went directly to work for six years with the U.S. Geological Survey, involving laboratory and fieldwork throughout the western United States, including Alaska. Then, after earning his Masters degree in Geology at San Jose State University in 1964 he accepted the position of Engineering Geologist with the U.S. Bureau or Reclamation, based in Sacramento, and for the next five years worked on engineering projects involving the storage and moving of water at a number of dam sites, tunnels and canals in California and Oregon.
Berkland worked on his Ph.D. in geology at the University of California at Davis until 1972, and although he passed his Ph.D. orals, he didn’t complete his dissertation within the required seven years. However he published more than 50 scientific papers, many of which utilized his Ph.D. studies, including a paper delivered at the International Geological Congress at Montreal in 1972.
Berkland was Assistant Professor of Geology at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina until 1973, where he shared in the discovery of evidence for Pleistocene glaciation in the Southern Appalachians. Berkland then moved backed to California and worked for the U.S.G.S. for over twenty years. He was the first County Geologist for the most populous county in northern California, Santa Clara County. Besides helping to establish geologic ordinances widely held as models in the field, Berkland served on many committees and advisory boards. He also held a position for two years as an adjunct professor at San Jose State University, and he received distinguished member awards from the Santa Clara County Engineers and Architects Association and the SABER Society at San Jose State University.
Berkland claims that he can predict earthquakes with over 75% accuracy by calculating the number of lost pet ads in the newspaper, and observing the lunar-tide cycles. He has been meticulously saving and counting lost pet ads for many years, and he says that the number of missing dogs and cats goes up significantly for as long as two weeks prior to an earthquake. Berkland also noted that many earthquakes occurred at the time of maximum tidal forces associated with the twice-monthly alignments of the Sun and Moon. In the 70s he began to make informal predictions, scoring six out of eight during 1974, including the 5.2M Thanksgiving Day Quake of November 27th. This one hit the day after he had predicted it at a meeting of U.S.G.S. geologists, and it synchronistically shook him and his daughter while they were attending the movie Earthquake.
Despite Berkland’s successes in earthquake prediction he found it almost impossible to publish on the subject in scientific journals. His career began to suffer although his credentials included fellowship in the Geological Society of America and membership in the Association of Engineering Geologists, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi Science Honor Society, Peninsula Geological Society, Seismological Society of America, and others.
Gravitational variations due to the lunar cycles, he says, create “seismic windows” of greater earthquake probability. When the number of missing pets also suddenly rises, then a quake is likely to happen. Berkland said he thinks the U.S.G.S. won’t accept unusual animal behavior data because it doesn’t fit with their current scientific paradigm. (Researchers who attempt earthquake prediction are often lumped into the same category as fortune tellers and scam artists by traditional geologists.) It is not surprising then to hear that Berkland was suspended from his position as Santa Clara county geologist for claiming to predict earthquakes–such as the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California, which was preceded by numerous reports of odd animal behavior.
When I did the research for Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s book Dogs That Know When Their Owner’s Are Coming Home, I set out to replicate Berkland’s findings, and I sat in the Santa Cruz Public Library for several weeks counting the Lost Pet ads in the San Jose Mercury News microfilm collection. I confirmed that Berkland’s calculations were indeed correct; there was a significant rise in the number of missing dog and cat ads in the weeks prior to the 1989 quake. The trouble was that when I checked the number of missing pet ads for the year before, during the same time period, there was also a rise–yet an earthquake didn’t follow the rise that year. So more counting needs to be done to determine whether seasonal effects might influence this phenomenon or not, but it does appear that Berkland is on to something significant with his method.
Berkland has made many media appearances. He was interviewed on the Art Bell radio show, and has appeared on Frontline, Sightings, Strange Universe, Northwest Afternoon, Town Meeting, Bill Cosby Show, The Other Side, Two at Noon, Evening Matinee, Jeff Rense show, George Putnam Show, Mitch Battros Show, Laura Lee Show, and many other broadcasts. In 1991 he was featured in the Farmer s Almanac, and his annual predictions are now published in the Dot Tide Tables.
Berkland also publishes his predictions in a newsletter called Syzygy, and he maintains Quakeline, a 900-line telephone information service that was originally nationwide, but is now restricted to the San Francisco Bay Area. To find out more about Berkland’s work visit his web site: www.syzygyjob.com
I interviewed Jim at his home on November 1, 1996, when he was living in San Jose, California. Jim is a very friendly guy, and he gets very enthusiastic when he talks about geology and earthquakes. We spoke about his career in geology, his methods of earthquake prediction, and what he thinks the animals are picking up on that is causing them to disappear prior to earthquakes.
David: How did you get involved in earthquake prediction?
James: As a county geologist I came out here in September of 1973, directly from Appalachian State University, where I was a Assistant Professor for a year. But I’m a native Californian, raised in the Bay Area. I was born down in Glendale, but we moved to Somoma Valley when I was six years old.
David: How did you first become interested in geology? Why don’t we start with that.
James: Well, my dad was a rock hound, and I was brought up in the country, with animals and hikes, hunting and fishing all around there. I’d see different terrain, and pick up rocks, different pretty rocks, stick them in the pocket. My dad was interested in lots of things, and was frustrated in a number of ways. He was an electrician, a store-keeper, and never had gone to colleges. He almost started in medicine, but didn’t.
I went directly from high school to a local Santa Rosa Junior College. Then I was going to work for six months and earn money to go to Berkeley in forestry, but it turned into almost six years. I worked at the biggest industry in Sonoma County, which is Sonoma State Hospital for the mentally retarded. I almost didn’t get out of there. It was handy, only a mile a way from where I lived, and I had kind of a pleasing job. It was like having Boy Scout troop. I would take the kids up in the hills for hikes and things.
Of course, my colleagues there were tickled, because suddenly instead of 120 kids on the ward, there would have maybe 75 or less. It was a lot easier to handle while I was away for four or five hours. I would pack the kids lunches, and go up and fish up at the creeks. We’d look at the wildlife, and turn over rocks to see what’s underneath. So I finally I decided there’s got to be a little more. I’m trained for more than this. It was easy, but it wasn’t challenging, and there was so “many things that I was interested in, but couldn’t seem to follow up on. So I went down to become a forester.
When I got to Berkeley in the middle of Spring semester it turned out that I’d already received all of the prerequisites for upper division, and there were no more courses available to me, without taking the forestry field camp, involved in measuring logs, timber country, and working in a logging mill. So I said, well, what does that pay,?
Well, no, they said, you pay us. It costs you $200. 1 said, no, next summer I’ve got to work again. Well, sorry you can’t take any upper division classes until you’ve had this summer field camp. Well, my buddy was taking geology at Berkeley, and he said, we don’t have to have our geology field camp until the end of our senior year. So because all of the prerequisites were identical I just shifted right into geology, and never looked back. After two years at Berkeley I went directly to the U.S.G.S., were I worked as a non-professional for almost six years, maybe a little over, during 1958 to 1964.
David: Had you earned your Ph.D.?
James: No, I just had a bachelors. I thought, well, I’ll just work at the U.S.G.S., work my way up, show them what I can do, gradually become a geologist, and go from there. Well, it turned out, it didn’t work that way. To get with the U.S.G.S. you pretty much had to have a Ph.D., except under times