Reasons Why Earthquake Prediction is So Difficult

Reasons Why Earthquake Prediction is So Difficult

Feb 20, 2018, 4:34:27 PM Opinion

With an increase in natural disasters around the world, most people’s curiosity on why this is happening has been aroused. Natural disasters actually fall into four categories. There are hydrological disasters, atmospheric disasters, biological disasters, and geological disasters. Geological disasters happen because of a variety of geological processes occurring deep in the earth. These include volcanic activity and the shifting of tectonic plates. The results are landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.


Each year, there are over two hundred thousand earthquakes recorded around the world. Geologists believe that several millions of them actually occur but their magnitude is too small to be detected.  Geoscientists have been studying the various areas where there is a high risk of earthquakes happening and have identified several. Additionally, they are able to forecast when and where earthquakes are about to happen based on the data that they have gathered.

As an understanding of how earthquakes work grows, forecasts have become more accurate.  Geological models have been tested against what has been observed and top notch geology software is in use to make sure that we have long term forecasts that are decades ahead of their time. Making deterministic predictions however, remains elusive. In order to do so, geologists would have to find diagnostic precursors that would include biological, chemical, or physical changes acting as indicators of an earthquake happening within a particular window of time and space. As such, geologists continue to focus their attention on improving how accurately they forecast earthquakes.

What Makes Earthquake Prediction So Difficult?

When an earthquake occurs, it is the result of a sudden release of some sort of stress that has been on the crust of the earth. This stress usually builds up gradually because of the movement of tectonic plates along a geological fault that already exists. Even though this is known, it is difficult to predict behavior because the way the earth’s crust responds is not linear. It actually depends on the highly variable and complex geology of the earth’s crust. This means that you cannot create simulations that are able to accurately predict tectonic events.

Something else that makes earthquake predictions difficult is the fact that the origin of an earthquake is many kilometers beneath the surface of the earth. Measuring the amount of pressure that is currently exerted on the crust remains a challenge as data collection and observation is remote.

It is common knowledge that earthquakes occur in clusters or sequences. This means that before there is a massive quake, there have been several smaller ones preceding it. Unfortunately though, just because there are several earth tremors is not to say that there will be a big one coming any time soon.  This means then that even having mini earthquakes cannot be considered a diagnostic precursor of an earthquake.

Other possible diagnostic precursors that have been suggested include animal behavior, the electrical properties of rocks, water table changes, and radon levels increasing. Many of these have been thoroughly researched over the years and not a single one has been found to be a solid indicator of an earthquake happening since each one can occur even without an earthquake following.


Published by Lucy Jones

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