Predicting an earthquake - Why can't we forecast quakes?
Every year, we read at least a couple of news reports about really major earthquakes that cause heavy loss of property and death. Given the fact that such a massive scale of destruction happens without warning, there is a heavy level of investment from governments across the world to set up research agencies who work round the clock to develop mechanisms to accurately predict an earthquake. But is this likely?
According to a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report, there are over a million earthquakes that hit our planet every single year. This means, by the time you read this sentence, our earth has experienced at least a couple of earthquakes. But most of these quakes are extremely minor that neither do we actually experience the tremors, nor do these quakes cause panic among geologists. It is only earthquakes that hit over 5 on the Richter scale that are capable of any major level of destruction or loss of lives.
Predicting an earthquake in itself is not a great deal. Based on the historical patterns that are available with geologists along with the study of rock samples underneath a land area, geologists can pretty convincingly be sure that a particular land mass is susceptible to an earthquake in the near future. However, what is not available with them is an accurate method to know which of these million earthquakes hitting us every year are going to be deadly and major. Unless we are able to devise a scientific method to realize this, all that we will end up with is false hysteria and rumor.
This is not to say that there has been no headway altogether with respect to predicting earthquakes. Ancient Chinese have always known that certain animals like snakes, cattle, horses and birds can give away an impending quake through strange and often unpredictable behaviour. However, this has not found to be consistent which means we really cannot be sure if such strange behaviours alone can be used as an empirical proof to predict an earthquake. However, scientists suspect that variations in magnetic fields or certain low frequency sounds could be the reason why some animals seem to get restless ahead of an earthquake.
The challenge is now to devise a tool to measure these differences accurately and validate the common held belief. If this ever happens, we will finally enter an era when earthquakes can be predicted much like an oncoming storm or hurricane - something that is extremely important to save thousands of precious lives.