Predicting Big Earthquakes Isn't Possible, Scientists Say

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-01 01:57

All earthquakes, big or small, begin in the same way. This makes it unlikely that predicting big earthquakes will be possible—at least not in the near future.

 

Photo by jamesbenet/E+/Getty Images

 

 

When an earthquake hits, we brace ourselves and hope that it isn't a big one—or worse, the big one. Unfortunately, big earthquakes do occur every now and then. Unlike other natural disasters like storms or hurricanes, however, we can't tell what an impending earthquake is like before it hits. We can't even tell when it'll hit. Everything we need to know about earthquakes, we find out about after the tremors are done.

 

There are early warning systems that can be vital in saving lives in the event of a big earthquake. These systems, for example, ware able to sound the alarms 10 to 15 seconds before the 7.1 magnitude Mexico earthquake hit. When early warning systems became more prevalent, people hoped that these systems will be able to predict the strength of an earthquake as well.

 

 

A Pattern in Earthquakes

 

Image via Sutterstock

 

 

Being able to tell how strong an earthquake will be can help people secure themselves better. However, predicting big earthquakes, or even small ones, isn't possible for now. Usually, we can tell if an earthquake is particularly strong once the peak of the earthquake has passed. And we can only tell if the peak has passed once the tremors subside and begin to weaken.

 

According to a new study, all earthquakes around the world follow a similar pattern. An earthquake begins, then it increases in magnitude. The earthquake then reaches its peak, then its magnitude decreases, making something like a triangular pattern in graphs. This is why we can't tell how strong an earthquake actually is until the tremors weaken and eventually stop.

 

Of course, the question is why no one has noticed this pattern before. After all, it seems to be a very simple conclusion. The answer is that we only recently developed the necessary resources that can put all this data together. However, the techniques and resources available to us now aren't enough to directly observe an earthquake. We can observe the effects of an earthquake, but the earthquake itself originates far underneath the surface, away from any observational instruments we may have.

 

 

Predicting Big Earthquakes May be a Long Way Away

 

Unfortunately, we'll have to look for other ways to mitigate the effects of earthquakes.

 

 

Now, researchers are working on finding a way to create an early warning system that can generate far more correct alerts than false ones. However, this will take more time and research. The researchers also noticed that though there is a general pattern to earthquakes, there are some outliers. Unfortunately, these outliers are the really big earthquakes, with magnitudes of over 8. Earthquakes this strong apparently have differences that researchers are only just beginning to understand. The pattern of very big earthquakes is still triangular, but the lines may have deviations when it comes to the actual quakes.

 

The study shows that there is still a lot more to discover when it comes to the nature of earthquakes. Predicting big earthquakes may not be possible—at least not any time soon—but we can look forward to better early warning systems in the future.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!