Earthquakes: predicting the ‘big one’
Humans have believed that animals can predict earthquakes for thousands of years. I mean the human belief that earthquakes can be predicted by animals has been held for thousands of years – just in case you thought I was saying that animals might be able to forecast seismic activity a thousand years into the future.
I’m glad we got that straightened out. Anyway, despite observations of animals fleeing the scene prior to a destructive quake since the Ancient Greeks saw rats, snakes and weasels leave Helice before that place was flattened, no real evidence was found for this amazing animal behavior.
Not until 2009, when scientists documented toads stopping producing eggs and completely abandoning the city of L’Aquila, Italy days before an earthquake struck.
Too bad toads can’t speak English – or Italian for that matter, which would have been extremely useful in Italy.
One man, former Soviet geophysicist Vladimir Keilis-Borok, once predicted a very damaging earthquake in California. Then-Soviet Premier Gorbachev even warned then US President Reagan about it at the time.
From the Los Angeles Times:
On Oct. 17, 1989, the earth moved, interrupting a World Series game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, collapsing a freeway in Oakland and leaving 63 people dead. Had Keilis-Borok and his team achieved one of the great quests of science, truly predicting an earthquake?
Keilis-Borok was right once, but since hasn’t been able to duplicate his success. Still, if he can even predict the likelihood of a quake, surely that’s worth something. Taking precautions never hurt anyone, though don’t tell that to a “climate skeptic”.
For example Professor Yoshiaki Kawata of Kansai University in Japan is predicting a quake in Japan’s Pacific coastal area that could result in the deaths of as many as 400,000 people. The life-saving capacity of even sort of accurate earthquake prediction is more than considerable.
Read more about that story on AsiaOne.
Now a professor at UCLA, Vladimir Keilis-Borok’s research team now focuses most of its energies on predicting other things, like social problems. Keilis Borok has contributed considerably to the science of prediction.