Can we predict earthquakes?

Can we predict earthquakes?

Seismologists are working on it.

In 2011 a large earthquake rocked Japan

At magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale it is the largest earthquake Japan has ever suffered. The earthquake triggered a tsunami which caused huge devastation on the northeast coast of Japan.

Thankfully, earthquakes of such huge magnitude are incredibly rare. However, predicting earthquakes accurately would save many lives.

Can we predict earthquakes?

Scientists have tried lots of different ways of predicting earthquakes, but none have been successful. They have a pretty good idea of where an earthquake is most likely to hit, but they still can't tell exactly when it will happen.

However, the probability of a future earthquake can be calculated, based on scientific data. Scientists at the US Geological Society (USGS) estimate that the probability of a major earthquake occurring in the San Francisco Bay area over the next 30 years is 67%.

Mike Blanpied USGS

Mike Blanpied works for USGS and studies earthquake prediction

It's good to know if earthquakes are probable, so that residents can prepare. It would be better to predict exactly when earthquakes will occur.

Why can't we predict earthquakes?

So far, scientists haven't been able to find a signal for earthquakes - there is no obvious sign to say that an earthquake is coming very soon. Vibrations can be detected just before an earthquake occurs, but this doesn't give enough time for people to escape.

Seismograph_106480427

Seismograph showing vibrations below the Earth's surface

The processes that cause earthquakes mostly occur far below the Earth's surface. There are many tectonic plates - sections of the Earth's crust that rub together and cause earthquakes - and their interactions are complex. This makes earthquakes very hard to study.

Will we ever be able to predict earthquakes?

Scientists at USGS and other organisations are working hard to developing methods which will predict earthquakes. Hopefully, scientists will eventually find a way to predict earthquakes precisely, which will save many lives.

To find out more about earthquakes and what causes them, go to: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/

To hear Mike Blanpied from USGS talk about earthquake prediction, go to:  http://www.usgs.gov/corecast/details.asp?ID=76

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