Can mega earthquakes be predicted?

The massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck central China on Monday, May 12, is just another example for just how unstable our plant earth really is. The final death toll in this earthquake, whose epicenter was in Sichuan Province, has already left more than 12,000 dead, with thousands more still unaccounted for. Horror stories such as entire student bodies being buried instantaneously gives an indication that people still do not have any adequate warning systems to alert them of such a disaster (in this case, the quake occurred in broad daylight at 2:30 p.m. local time).

China has had severe earthquakes in the past, with one of the most severe occurring in the northern city of Tangshan in August 1976. In this quake, more than a quarter million died; even more than the South Asia tsunami tidal waves of 2004, which were also caused by a massive earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale.

San Andreas Fault in CAEarthquakes have occurred often throughout recoded history, and some kind of adequate warning systems are yet to be developed to give people at least a few moments to exit homes or public buildings in time. Many earthquakes occur at night making the results even more calamitous. The earthquake that occurred a few years ago in Turkey occurred in the early morning hours and resulted in more than 40,000 deaths. Geophysicists and other scientists who study earthquakes often go to the source of the quake itself to try to determine just what actually caused it. One thing that has been found in regards to what causes a major quake to happen is when a number of relatively minor disturbances occur in a particular area, and are followed by a period of calm. Since earthquakes are caused by a shifting of the plates in the earth’s crust, it may be correct that a number of minor earthquakes of around 2-3 magnitude cause a weakness in the earth’s crust that can result in a much more powerful quake occurring later on. Some minor earthquakes are so quiet that they are not even heard of felt and are only picked up on sensitive recording devices like a Richter scale.

A good example of a “spike” in these ‘mini quakes’ occurred recently in the Pacific Ocean off the American West Coast of Oregon. These occurrences may be well worth studying, since major earthquakes have occurred several times in California, which is situated on a major earthquake fault line, the San Andreas Fault.

There are a number other natural signs which may predict a major earthquake, such as birds being very agitated and are seen flying in circles, refusing to land. Animals such as dogs are also said to be able to sense an upcoming earthquake and they react by making whimpering sounds and moving in a circular fashion. While these warning signs may be helpful, they have still not been proven as reliable and don’t help much at all if the quake occurs at night. A number of major earthquakes are predicted to occur in several locations on the earth in the future; and as such, being able to predict them more accurately could save thousands of lives, as well as untold amounts of property.

Photo by University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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