Earthquake science still in its infancy

The magnitude 9 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island that triggered December's devastating tsunami was a potent reminder that pinning a quake down to a day, a week or even a decade has proven impossible.

    A warning of just a few minutes may have saved lives

    The earthquake apparently gave no warning whatsoever, researchers told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Monday.

    Quake experts do not even agree how to measure a quake's magnitude to see if an experiment for predicting quake activity has worked, said Thomas Jordan of the Southern California Earthquake Centre.

    "Most seismologists, including myself, are pessimistic that in the next five years or 10 years we will ever be able to come up with a silver bullet earthquake solution," Jordan told a news conference, but added: "Never say never."

    There are some suggestions that very low-frequency seismic activity might predict some quakes.

    US Geological Survey (USGS) researchers have measured low-pitched rumbles from deep under California's San Andreas fault, about 25km southeast of Parkfield.

    More study needed

    They resemble measurements made at subduction zones in Japan and the Pacific Northwest.

    A subduction zone is where one of the Earth's tectonic plates is slipping under another. The Sumatra temblor occurred at one such subduction zone.

    "We just don't understand what those signals mean," Jordan said. "As best we can tell, there are no reliable short-term precursors to earthquakes."
     
    David Applegate of the USGS said Parkfield, which has been covered with instruments for 20 years in the hope of catching a quake in the act, was providing useful information, but nothing that could be used to begin predicting a quake in a useful way.
     
    More important will be finding out the highest risk areas so building codes can be brought up to date and emergency services told where the ground will shake the most, so they can respond quickly when a quake does occur.

    SOURCE: Reuters


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    Al Jazeera examines three weeks of war from which both Arabs and Israelis claimed to emerge victorious.