General Question

Bellatrix's avatar

To what level and accuracy can scientists predict earthquakes?

Asked by Bellatrix (21228points) March 12th, 2011

With the recent earthquakes, it is surprising that we don’t have at least rudimentary earthquake prediction methods. To what level and accuracy can seismologists predict impending earthquakes?

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14 Answers

coffeenut's avatar

As far as I can tell 0%

BarnacleBill's avatar

Earthquakes can be predicted on a regional basis, but not to a specific date. This is because the movement of the earth’s plates is neither predictable or controllable. Monitoring of seismic activity can give an indication that something is coming, and influences (or should influence) building codes in certain regions.

Japan does have an early warning system and the fact that they are in a certain area has influenced their building codes.

Bellatrix's avatar

Thank you Bill. I found a website too where a scientist appears to be using a model to predict earthquakes and predicted the Japanese earthquake but timed it for a couple of days from now.

Haven’t had time to really read through the how and why of the website or this model, or consider the validity of the information.

BarnacleBill's avatar

The New Madrid Fault, which lies along the Mississippi-Ohio river valleys is due, or past due, for an earthquake. When there were tremors in 1811, they were felt all the way to NYC and Canada. There were 1000 aftershocks. Apparently there have been 500 tremors since September 2010. However, short of making sure I have earthquake coverage and making a deliberate effort to work in buildings of 10 stories or less, I’m not sure what I can do to prevent the area turning into a methane gas fireball. The buildings in the area aren’t really built with an eye towards earthquake construction.

jaytkay's avatar

From MIT’s Technology Review:

How Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Warning Systems Work

…the loss of life was likely limited by two vital early warning technologies: a new earthquake alert system, and ocean-based tsunami warning system.

The earthquake warning system, which has never been triggered before, automatically issued alerts via television and cell phones shortly after the first, less harmful, shock wave was detected, providing time for many people to prepare for the more powerful shock wave that followed. It also caused many energy and industrial facilities, and transportation services to shut down automatically…

Nullo's avatar

I don’t know about percentages, but it is often possible to observe things tensing up just prior to a quake.

Bellatrix's avatar

Given the devastation they cause, I hope they will find exact measures to predict earthquakes at some point. I am lucky I live on one of the most stable continents on the planet. We did have an earthquake in Newcastle a few years ago and there have been reports of tremors, but earthquakes are not a common thing here.

WasCy's avatar

The night before Mt. St. Helens blew in 1980 I was working a night shift at a power plant in northern Oregon. To get to the plant we had to drive along a 12-mile access road through mostly vacant high desert and scrub, with no houses or businesses and not much vegetation or wildlife – not much ‘apparent’ wildlife, anyway.

I had worked the night shift for awhile, but this particular evening was very unusual, because there were rabbits everywhere on that road and all around as I drove out in the dark. It was weird seeing so many rabbits at one time, when we seldom saw more than one or two at a time otherwise. These things were like swarming; there were scores of rabbits in my headlights, and who knows how many that I couldn’t see and weren’t on the road. It was creepy-weird.

Of course, St. Helens had been in the news in the days prior because there was so much seismic & volcanic activity and it seemed to be common knowledge that “something would happen” with the volcano, but no one knew exactly what, to what extent, or exactly when it might occur.

Other than the rabbits, that night shift was uneventful, and I went home and got to bed toward dawn. I slept late the next day, as usual, and got up sometime after noon to go shopping. I still hadn’t heard any news, but I saw this huge black thundercloud (I thought) passing by to the north. So I hurried to get my shopping done and get back home before “the storm” would hit. Of course, we never got “a storm”, and I found out soon enough what had happened and what that cloud represented.

If those rabbits were “predicting” a major eruption of a volcano more than 100 miles away in distance, but no more than 12 hours in the future, it seems that no one has taken advantage of the information. But so far, they’re the best I’ve seen, if they can be relied upon.

Bellatrix's avatar

Thank you for everyone’s thoughts on this topic. I appreciate your answers.

mattbrowne's avatar

Very low. The best part is using the lack of accumulation of smaller quakes.

Bellatrix's avatar

Thank you @mattbrowne. I would have imagined there was some way to pick up small levels of seismic activity that could help predict larger events, but apparently not.

mattbrowne's avatar

The opposite seems to be the case @Mz_Lizzy – Picking up plenty of smaller and medium-level quakes is good and can help predict a smaller likelihood of larger quakes. I read that the Pacific plate is quite old and inelastic decreasing the likelihood of smaller quakes. That was the problem in Japan.

Bellatrix's avatar

That’s fascinating but not good news for countries on the Pacific plate. When I left for work this morning they were talking about the strong possibility of an aftershock measureing around 7 in magnitude. Thank you again for the information. I should go and do a bit of research.

mattbrowne's avatar

Aftershocks are very predictable.

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