Earthquakes are not predictable, US Geological Survey says: NPR
Ilyas Akenigin/AFP via Getty Images
No scientist has “ever predicted a major earthquake”, according to the US Geological Survey. It’s a point worth repeating: on the same day a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks caused thousands of deaths in Turkey and Syria, social media was swarming with false claims that which the cataclysm had been predicted only a few days ago.
It’s the latest case of someone drawing attention for making “scattered statements and predictions” that might appear to have been confirmed, Susan Hough, a seismologist with the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, told NPR.
“So yeah, it’s the stopped clock that’s right twice a day, basically,” she said.
Millions see warning tweet from ‘earthquake mystic’
As news of the tragedy in southern Turkey and northern Syria spread on Monday, millions of people also saw a February 3 tweet warning that a strong earthquake would hit the same region. The viral post came from a Dutchman named Frank Hoogerbeets.
If his name rings a bell, it might be because Hoogerbeets also claimed in 2015 to know the exact date California would be hit by The Big One: May 28, 2015. At the time, he urged people to prepare an evacuation plan. , warning of an extremely dangerous earthquake of magnitude 8.8 or greater.
In its most recent warning, Hoogerbeets tweeted: “Sooner or later there will be a ~M 7.5 #earthquake in this region (South-Central Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon).” He included a map, showing a red circle over roughly the same area where the earthquake hit.
But the spot is a site of frequent activity: it’s where three tectonic plates converge. As sad as the human toll was, the strong quake “came as no shock to any earthquake specialist,” Hough said. “Turkey is a known seismic zone. We know about these faults, we know earthquakes of this size are possible.”
Hoogerbeets did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for a response from scientists who question its claims.
In the past, Hoogerbeets has been described as an “earthquake enthusiast” and an “earthquake mystic” who believes that the movement of planets in our solar system can help us predict earthquakes. In response to his opponents, Hoogerbeets acknowledged “great resistance within the scientific community regarding the influence of the planets and the Moon” on seismic activity on Earth. He considered this attitude as “a hypothesis”, supporting his position by sharing the image of a 1959 letter to the editor of Nature magazine.
The USGS is unequivocal: no one can predict an earthquake.
“We don’t know how, and we don’t expect to know anytime in the foreseeable future,” the agency said. “USGS scientists can only calculate the probability of a large earthquake occurring (shown on our hazard map) in a specific area over a certain number of years.”
Monday’s earthquake and dozens of strong aftershocks hit an area known to be seismically active: it’s in an area characterized by a “triple junction”, the point where three tectonic plates (in this case, the Anatolian Plates , Arabia and Africa) meet. Three years ago, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck an area northeast of this devastating tremor.
The USGS urges people to consider the three elements that would constitute an authentic and accurate earthquake prediction: a date and time, a location and a magnitude. Hoogerbeets’ warning of an earthquake hitting “sooner or later” falls far short of the first requirement.
Hough says she is among those who saw Hoogerbeets’ tweet. And while he studies planetary alignments, she says others have claimed that ionospheric disturbances can somehow signal an impending earthquake.
“You keep getting these supposedly promising results, but no one has established a track record of reliable predictions,” she said. “If something happened, the proof would be in the pudding. Someone would be able to predict earthquakes reliably with a history, and the whole world would notice if someone could. No one has it. do.”
Hoogerbeets Rejects USGS Criteria; the website of his operation, the Solar System Geometry Survey, says it’s “unrealistic” to require an earthquake prediction to be so accurate.
Quake Experts Emphasize Preparation, Not Predictions
“Prediction really isn’t the name of the game in this business,” Hough said. “We want the buildings to stand.”
This aspect of the field focuses on things like engineering and construction methods. Scientists and others are also working to improve preparedness and early warning systems, hoping to prevent worst-case scenarios from occurring.
“A colleague of mine told me years ago that we can predict earthquakes to the extent that we need to,” she said. “We know they’re going to happen, and we know some parts of the world are going to be exposed to them and we just have to build the environment around that.”
With enough sensors and a sophisticated computer network, Hough says, emergency systems can also send an early warning that an earthquake has begun.
“It’s like the difference between lightning and thunder,” she said, describing how a message in an alarm system can travel faster than the speed of a jolt. And in the event of a potential disaster, even 10 seconds can make a big difference.
“It’s not going to help your building. You know, you give somebody a 10-second warning, the building will get up, or it won’t,” Hough said. “But there are protective measures you could take with a very short-term warning. There are systems that will slow down trains, for example. You can move elevators to the nearest floor and open doors so that ‘they don’t get stuck.”
“You can just remove that horrible element of unpredictability,” she said, which people find terrifying.
And then there are the buildings themselves. The extent of the damage is still being counted in Turkey and Syria. But in video footage of communities devastated by earthquakes and aftershocks, Hough said, there are clues that could help ward off future losses: Some structures are still standing, right next to buildings that have been damaged. horrible collapses.
“And that tells you that you can design and build buildings that will stand.”