Earthquake Prediction- Art or Science?: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Jul 14, 2004
Scientist: Carol Raymond

Earthquake Prediction- Art or Science?

Earthquake Prediction- Art or Science?
Hear about how people have tried to predict earthquakes.

ambience: time-lapse earthquake recording

The outer crust of the earth is made of enormous sections - called plates - which fit together like pieces of a giant jigsaw. Earthquakes happen when the boundaries of these plates slip past each other. Although quakes can be devastating to human lives and property, our ability to predict them is limited, at best. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We're listening to a time-lapse recording of an earthquake.

"Earthquakes are a consequence of complex nonlinear physics in the Earth, and, as such, it's difficult to make a prediction with any certainty."

Carol Raymond is a physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"There are several methods that people have used in the past to predict earthquakes. Right now the science community issues what are termed probabilistic assessments, and these give a certain probability of a certain size earthquake occurring over a period of time, which is on the order of decades. And these assessments give predictions for broad areas. There have been other types of predictions which have been made. One successful story is from an earthquake in China, which was predicted by intense observation of many different phenomena occurring in a certain region near a fault and included levels of water in wells changing rapidly and even such things as animal behavior. The authorities evacuated a town, and, sure enough, an earthquake occurred. And it was a great success. However, shortly thereafter there was another very devastating earthquake that occurred, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and this one was not predicted. So, this method, while it did have one success, is also fraught with peril."

In future programs, we'll hear how a new technology may help science increase the accuracy of earthquake prediction.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.