Quake prediction? Little gain realized

Associated PressSeptember 5, 2011 

— The East Coast earthquake surprised scientists who spend their careers trying to untangle the mysteries of sudden ground shifts. Despite decades of research, earthquake prediction remains elusive.

In recent years, however, researchers using satellites say it may be possible to someday predict quakes from space. Others think they can find signals in rocks. The two schools of thought swapped notes at a meeting in Los Angeles weeks before a magnitude-5.8 rattled the Eastern Seaboard.

"I was pretty skeptical going in and I remain skeptical," said Washington state seismologist John Vidale, among 44 scientists who attended.

Chapman University physicist Dimitar Ouzounov uses satellite data to discern how changes in the atmosphere might have a relation to earthquakes. He says the field of seismology has reached a roadblock but other disciplines might be able to help.

While scientists can't pin down when a quake will strike in a narrow time frame, they can make long-term forecasts based on a region's seismic history. For example, California faces an almost certain risk - a 99.7 percent chance - of being rocked by a magnitude-6.7 quake or larger by 2038.

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