Earthquake Prediction

Earthquake prediction "is usually defined as the specification of the time, location, and magnitude of a future earthquake within stated limits", and particularly of "the next strong earthquake to occur in a region." This can be distinguished from earthquake forecasting, which is the probabilistic assessment of general earthquake hazard, including the frequency and magnitude of damaging earthquakes, in a given area over periods of years or decades. This can be further distinguished from real-time earthquake warning systems, which, upon detection of a severe earthquake, can provide neighboring regions a few seconds warning of potentially significant shaking.

To be useful, an earthquake prediction must be precise enough to warrant the cost of increased preparations, including disruption of ordinary activities and commerce, and timely enough that preparations can be taken. Predictions must also be reliable, as false alarms and cancelled alarms are not only economically costly, but seriously undermine confidence in, and thereby the effectiveness of, any kind of warning.

With over 7,000 earthquakes around the world each year of magnitude 4.0 or greater, trivial success in earthquake prediction is easily obtained using sufficiently broad parameters of time, location, or magnitude. However, such trivial "successful predictions" are not useful. Major earthquakes are often followed by reports that they were predicted, or at least anticipated, but no claim of a successful prediction of a major earthquake has survived close inquiry.

In the 1970s there was intense optimism amongst scientists that some method of predicting earthquakes might be found, but by the 1990s continuing failure led many scientists to question whether it was even possible. While many scientists still hold that, given enough resources, prediction might be possible, many others maintain that earthquake prediction is inherently impossible.

The nature of earthquakes makes it difficult to meet the criteria for a successful prediction. Various approaches have been considered, and there have several notable predictions or claimed predictions. "An earthquake is like an assassin that returns to the scene of a crime after centuries" notes physicist Claudio Eva, "but you can never tell when."

"Only fools and charlatans predict earthquakes."

—Charles Richter

Read more about Earthquake Prediction:  Prediction Methods, Notable Predictions, Is Earthquake Prediction Impossible?

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