BREAKING NEWS: A Step Closer to Earthquake Prediction

Upam Bikash

Scientists have long been searching for ways to predict earthquakes, and a recent study by researchers Bletery and Nocquet may have brought us one step closer to this elusive goal(1). In their paper published in Science, the researchers analyzed data from approximately 3000 geodetic stations measured using the Global Positioning System (GPS) near 90 global earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 7.

Earthquake Prediction can save millions

The key findings of their study indicate that before an earthquake occurs, there is a subtle but significant acceleration in the horizontal movements of nearby geodetic stations. This acceleration is consistent with slow fault slip near the eventual earthquake nucleation point, and it becomes more pronounced in the last 2 hours leading up to the mainshock. In essence, the fault responsible for the earthquake starts moving slowly before the big event.
While this discovery is promising, it's important to note that earthquake prediction remains a challenging task. The study highlights that the precursory phase is relatively short, lasting a few hours at most, which limits the time available for any warning. Additionally, the prediction accuracy for individual events needs further investigation to assess if it can be reliably measured.

This study is a major advancement in earthquake research, and it could lead to integrating its findings into automated earthquake early-warning systems. These systems currently offer seconds to minutes of warning for specific regions, giving people crucial time to take cover. If confirmed and accurately measured, the short-term precursory signal discovered in this study may provide valuable seconds or minutes of warning, improving preparedness and protecting communities.

However, it's essential to approach this discovery with cautious optimism. The scientific community must conduct further studies to validate the findings and understand how often similar slow slip episodes occur without leading to earthquakes. Additionally, data from other geodetic systems, such as strainmeters and inclinometers, should be reviewed independently to assess the proposed short-term preslip episodes fully.

Most large earthquakes occur in subduction zones, which are often distant from GPS monitoring networks. For better detection of offshore slow slip events, the installation of high-precision geodetic measurement systems on the seafloor is necessary.

In conclusion, while we are not yet at the stage of making precise and reliable earthquake predictions, the research by Bletery and Nocquet provides valuable insights into earthquake behavior.(1) It's a promising step towards understanding the precursors of seismic events, and with continued research, it may one day lead to more effective earthquake prediction and early-warning systems, ultimately safeguarding lives and infrastructure.

1. Q.Bletery,J.-M.Nocquet,Science 381,Page 297(2023).

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