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The U.S. Earthquake Prediction Program

January 1, 1981

Following on from the concepts of plate tectonics, the earth sciences are now embarking on a challenging course- the time prediction of geologic phenomena. Earthquake prediction is an outstanding example of this. However, earthquake prediction is not the only scientific goal. The destructive power of a large earthquake requires that we also take mitigating actions; these include earthquake engineering research to design construction that will resist earthquake shaking. Nevertheless, earthquake prediction has a vital role to play not only in the saving of lives, but in the reduction of economic loss and social disruption from large earthquakes.

There are two distinct motivations for earthquake prediction. The mechanistic approach aims to understand the processes leading to a large earthquake. The empirical approach is governed by the immediate need to protect lives and property. With our current lack of knowledge about the earthquake process, future progress cannot be made without gathering a large body of measurements. These are required not only for the empirical prediction of earthquakes, but also for the testing and development of hypotheses that further our understanding of the processes at work. The earthquake prediction program is basically a program of scientific inquiry, but one which is motivated by social, political, economic, and scientific reasons. It is a pursuit that cannot rely on empirical observations alone nor can it carried out solely on a blackboard or in a laboratory. Experiments must be carried out in the real Earth. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 1981
Title The U.S. Earthquake Prediction Program
Authors R. L. Wesson, J.R. Filson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earthquake Information Bulletin (USGS)
Index ID 70162495
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse