Earthquake Prediction

Seismologists try to predict how likely it is that an earthquake will occur, with a specified time, place, and size. Earthquake prediction also includes calculating how a strong ground motion will affect a certain area if an earthquake does occur. Scientists can use the growing catalogue of recorded earthquakes to estimate when and where strong seismic motions may occur. They map past earthquakes to help determine expected rates of repetition. Seismologists can also measure movement along major faults using global positioning satellites (GPS) to track the relative movement of the rocky crust of a few centimeters each year along faults. This information may help predict earthquakes. Even with precise instrumental measurement of past earthquakes, however, conclusions about future tremors always involve uncertainty. This means that any useful earthquake prediction must estimate the likelihood of the earthquake occurring in a particular area in a specific time interval compared with its occurrence as a chance event.

The elastic rebound theory gives a generalized way of predicting earthquakes because it states that a large earthquake cannot occur until the strain along a fault exceeds the strength holding the rock masses together. Seismologists can calculate an estimated time when the strain along the fault would be great enough to cause an earthquake.

Scientists have measured other changes along active faults to try and predict future activity. These measurements have included changes in the ability of rocks to conduct electricity, changes in ground water levels, and changes in variations in the speed at which seismic waves pass through the region of interest. None of these methods, however, has been successful in predicting earthquakes to date.