Scientists advance earthquake
forecasting and detection
By Caitlin Cassady
October 17, 2007
Eighteen years after the Loma Prieta earthquake ravaged the
Bay Area, geological scientists continue to make significant breakthroughs
in earthquake research and forecasting.
California scientists are researching the ability to issue warnings
about earthquakes before they happen, U.S. Geological Survey seismologist
David Oppenheimer said.
Early warning systems would be able to detect shaking and inform
the public of imminent danger, Oppenheimer said. Similar systems
have been developed in Mexico, Taiwan and Japan, but the program
is still in its research phase in the U.S.
"It is difficult for us (in the U.S.), because earthquake
faults, especially those in California, are located in metropolitan
areas, not offshore, hundreds of miles from areas of dense population,''
Oppenheimer said. "This makes it extremely difficult to warn
residents, because there is not much warning time.''
Professor of geophysics at University of California, Berkeley
Richard Allen said scientists are using an existing network of
seismic stations to rapidly detect earthquake beginnings and assess
the danger they pose to the general populace.
"We are only talking about a few seconds of warning,'' Allen
said, "but even those few extra seconds can help before a
major earthquake strikes.''
Allen said that scientists have algorithms running so that they
can test the programs when earthquakes strike and see how well
the warning system performs.
Oppenheimer says a three-year study funded by the USGS has just
finished its first year and he is hopeful about the findings so
Another new tool the USGS is using is a system called Prompt
Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response, Oppenheimer said.
PAGER is a program that predicts the impact an earthquake will
have on any specific location in the world. The program takes
into account infrastructure, building codes and performance as
well as population density. PAGER then takes the magnitude of
the earthquake and assesses the extent of the potential damage.
"This could potentially halt communications blackouts such
as the one experienced after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan,''
With the PAGER program Red Cross and other relief organizations
can see if they will need to respond to a catastrophe before a
community or region even sends out a call for relief.
The Internet has allowed the public to participate in earthquake
technology, Oppenheimer said. USGS puts every bit of information
they compute about any given earthquake on its Web site so that
people can track earthquakes in their region, or just learn more
about tectonic movement.
Because earthquakes are so prevalent in the Bay Area, new technology
and emergency preparedness are vital to the survival of the region.
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