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Earthquakes: Predicting the unpredictable?

January 1, 2005

The earthquake prediction pendulum has swung from optimism in the 1970s to rather extreme pessimism in the 1990s. Earlier work revealed evidence of possible earthquake precursors: physical changes in the planet that signal that a large earthquake is on the way. Some respected earthquake scientists argued that earthquakes are likewise fundamentally unpredictable. The fate of the Parkfield prediction experiment appeared to support their arguments: A moderate earthquake had been predicted along a specified segment of the central San Andreas fault within five years of 1988, but had failed to materialize on schedule. At some point, however, the pendulum began to swing back. Reputable scientists began using the "P-word" in not only polite company, but also at meetings and even in print. If the optimism regarding earthquake prediction can be attributed to any single cause, it might be scientists' burgeoning understanding of the earthquake cycle.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Earthquakes: Predicting the unpredictable?
Authors Susan E. Hough
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geotimes
Index ID 70029115
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse