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Earthquake Prediction Months In Advance 297

eegad writes "A UCLA seismologist named Vladimir Keilis-Borok claims earthquakes can be predicted months in advance. In the article at the University of California Newswire, he claims that the "team including experts of pattern recognition, geodynamics, seismology, chaos theory, statistical physics and public safety ... has developed algorithms to detect precursory earthquake patterns." It also says "the team's current predictions have not missed any earthquake, and have had its two most recent ones come to pass." They predict "an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.4 by Sept. 5, 2004, in a region that includes the southeastern portion of the Mojave Desert, and an area south of it." We'll see if they're right."
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Earthquake Prediction Months In Advance

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  • by michaelhood ( 667393 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:21AM (#7952263)
    I mean, if they could narrow it down to +/- 3 (10?) days or something.. then maybe? But, really, I have a system of my own:
    There will be an earthquake of at least 6.4 magnitude in the state of California. Before 2010. So far, my predictions have always been accurate +/- 7 years.
  • Time to Press (Score:1, Insightful)

    by SirChris ( 676927 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:21AM (#7952270) Journal
    So they can predict it X number of monthys in advance, but how many months does it take to finally let people know about it. If they can predict it 3 months in advance but takes 4 months to let anyone know about it, we are just going to hear a lot of, "well, yeah we knew it was going to happen"
  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) * <> on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:21AM (#7952273) Homepage Journal
    While this is a great advance, the real deal will be when we get to the point we can predict precisely enough to WARN the people living in these areas.

    As in, hey two weeks from friday, leave the area for a day or two.
  • by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:24AM (#7952299) Homepage Journal
    In June of 2003, this team predicted an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 or higher would strike within nine months in a 310-mile region of Central California whose southern part includes San Simeon, where a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck on Dec. 22.

    In July of 2003, the team predicted an earthquake in Japan of magnitude 7 or higher by Dec. 28, 2003, in a region that includes Hokkaido. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck Hokkaido on Sept. 25, 2003.

    In 6-9 months there will be an earthquake within 310 miles of San Francisco of at least 4.0.

    This is fun!
  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:29AM (#7952366)
    If this turns out to be true, it would be a disaster for the economy in an area. Would you hang around or invest in a place where there's a big quake known to be coming in the next few months? It'd be like being told you've got a 100% chance of contracting cancer in the next few months. Although it helps you prepare, life can't be normal after that.
  • I think he did (Score:4, Insightful)

    by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:33AM (#7952398) Homepage
    At least those who read /. ;)

    Seriously, I imagine if this sort of thing holds up, authorities will. Although this warning is so vague, it's only enough to get people to load up on emergency supplies, and possibly local governments to review disaster policies. Not that that accomplishment should be minimized, but something more certain a day in advance would be great.

  • by dirt_puppy ( 740185 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:38AM (#7952458)
    I couldn't make out where that exact prediction was made - that might have to do with the fact that I didn't find an article following the link, just an index of articles of which one was about Earthquakes.

    It is apparently now possible to locate the epicenters of tiny earthquakes ("microquakes") that occur very often, and they found that these often occur in the same spot, which would tell us that that location is a place where no bigger Earthquake could happen, as the tension is released often.

    Even if we assume that we can conclude the other way round (saying, if the microquakes cease for a while, the probability of a bigger quake right in that spot would rise - which is probably true sometimes), still there would be no information about when the bigger quake would occur or how much bigger it was.

    Sure, one could estimate the energy buildup (maybe, in some way), but the time when the bigger quake happens is still unknown. Also, the absence of microquakes is just telling that no more of these are happening - noone can know if this is because tension is building up or if for some reason this place is now lubricated better and tends not to lock anymore.

    What one would need is a reliable way to measure the tension underground, and still it wouldn't be possible to know when a big quake happens. It would give a result like "Uh this tension is really high. Better we leave right now and dont come back until the big quake happened."

    So far, the only sensible protection against Earthquakes is either buildings that withstand earthquakes (or dont kill people when they collapse... well the first approach sure is favoured ;) or not building at all where quakes happen.

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:38AM (#7952460)
    Here's my prediction: "somewhere on earth, before the end of time, the earth will have at least a 0.1-magnitude earthquake!"

    The point is, that only claimed that that had no false negatives. But they didn't discuss another critical aspect: how many false positives they had, and how tight their specificity is.

    Without those details, you miss a lot.
  • local economies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cr@ckwhore ( 165454 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:39AM (#7952467) Homepage
    This all seems like a hoax to me, BUT... lets pretend for a moment that it is absolutely true.

    If earthquake prediction became the norm, imagine the damage to local economies here in the US!

    Imagine this scenario...
    "Earthquake, 2 months from now, Seattle area".

    Ok, what do you, a business owner, do? Pack up and get out. Hell, you've got 2 months to do it.

    Ok, what do you, a would-be tourist on vacation, do? Pick an alternate destination.

    Ok, what do you, a local citizen, do? Panic. Perhaps pack the family and leave. Perhaps stay and stockpile supplies if your employer hasn't left yet.

    I think it's very obvious that natural disaster prediction would be devastating for local and regional economies. In the big picture, as local economies start their own self-destruction, it'll have a bigger effect on the nation as a whole.

  • by R_Harrold ( 669587 ) <> on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:40AM (#7952480) Homepage
    The key is to start out general and work down to more specific predictions as the methodology is improved and you can build an adequate database and figure out what parts of your model are hogwash and which parts contribute. If they can get one or more parts of the prediction accurate at the 9 month mark, then there is a chance that they can become even more accurate over lesser ranges as time progresses. Also, the ability to predict a major earthquake out at the 9 month mark would be quite welcome for municipalities who are planning emergency preparedness. Imagine being able to budget so that your emergency personnel have the materials on hand that they need. Imagine being able to say "Ok, no-one go on vacation during the August-September timeframe as we are probably going to need all the bodies we can lay our hands on. Just because in the past it has not been possible to predict this sort of thing accurately does not mean it will not be possible in the future and therefore is not worth spending money on. Robert H
  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:48AM (#7952556) Homepage
    In 6-9 months there will be an earthquake within 310 miles of San Francisco of at least 4.0.

    This is fun!

    Not to ruin a joke, but there are roughly 14,500 4.0+ earthquakes every year. By contrast, there are an average of 134 earthquakes between 6.0 and 6.9, and a whopping 17 between 7.0 and 7.9. while these guys seem to be managing to hit the target, you're suggesting that you can reliably hit the broad side of the barn.

    If they are on to something, this could be huge. Imagine that you're in charge of running a major international relief organization. Think of how useful it could be even to have this degree of earthquake prediction, considering that today you basically need to wait for a city to collapse before you can even begin the logistics of sending aid. If this team turns out to be on to something, odds are they'd be able to further hone their simulations and predictions to the point where you could have, say, a 200-mile radius and a 3 month 'window'. Given this window, you could take care of a lot of preparation, not the least of which is dealing with the politics of an international aid operation. Add to this the ability to 'beef up' aid agencies in the region, and you've got a lot better emergency response before the thing ever even hits...

  • by Schlemphfer ( 556732 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:49AM (#7952564) Homepage
    If this [ability to predict earthquakes] turns out to be true, it would be a disaster for the economy in an area.

    No, the real disaster for a local economy is when thousands of people hang around, and are buried alive because they weren't told to clear out. People can always come back to town after the quake hits, and return to their land and repair their buildings.

  • They Knew! (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:53AM (#7952594)
    So, how many of these recent major earthquakes did they know about, and just didn't tell any one?

    I can't help but wonder, I mean tens of thousands of people died in Iran. Even if they weren't sure about the results, shouldn't they have told SOMEONE?

    Isn't it a little early in the morning to be playing god?
  • Re:local economies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by magarity ( 164372 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:54AM (#7952603)
    Ok, what do you, a business owner, do? Pack up and get out. Hell, you've got 2 months to do it.

    Not likely in America! There are plenty of people who won't leave when a level 5 hurricane is howling outside so what makes you think anyone will do anything when there's a whopping two months to go on an earthquake warning? At most, you'll:
    1. Make sure your earthquake insurance is paid up, and
    2. Maybe call a building inspector to double-check the structural integrity of your shop.
    That's about it.
  • by pantycrickets ( 694774 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:54AM (#7952604)
    If they are on to something, this could be huge. Imagine that you're in charge of running a major international relief organization

    Imagine that I'm in charge of a large earthquake insurance company.

    Seriously though, this does pose many any questions.
  • Re:local economies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skater ( 41976 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:54AM (#7952610) Homepage Journal
    We know hurricanes are coming days or sometimes even a week or two in advance. People STILL BUY LAND and LIVE in those areas. A friend of mine had her house destroyed while she was in it during a hurricane (Hugo). But she still lives in the same area.

    Why would earthquakes be any different?

    Example: we've been hearing about the "Big One" for California. But last I checked, California's population was still growing.

  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:55AM (#7952616) Homepage Journal
    Well, I think people should have thought of the ethical concerns about allowing building in earthquake prone zones in the first place.

    If an entire country will be asked to pay for disaster relief, I think it behooves the entire country to keep a cap on construction in known disaster prone areas.
  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:57AM (#7952640)
    Yes, that is true, but consider that the amount of resources invested overall increases, as investments are less frequently total losses with this forewarning. Bad economically for the geographic locale predicted to quake, good in general for investment. Fewer resources lost and lower risk all comes out to healthier investments. This is all assuming that false positives are *extremely* rare and that it is also capable of predicting >90% of disasters, change either variable and the picture changes.... Of course some investments would go up (construction companies and the like would clean up on 'quake-proofing' non-movable structures).

    Now, back to the geographic locale's state. Sucks to be them economically, but let's say you had the choice of having equal chance at having investments near your house, or knowing that in ~3 months, a catastrophic quake that could kill you is extremely likely. The economic problems are both temporary and offset by the value of increasing awareness to save lives. 4 months later after the quake happens, no further risk is seen and companies are already lined up to do reconstruction of whatever was destroyed. 3 months of warning allows a community to do a lot to protect investments from harm and prepare a rapid recovery plan for high-risk, high-value structures that may be destroyed. So while in the short term economic conditions are potentially bad, having 3 months warning provides better long term economic circumstances.
  • Insurance? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Remlik ( 654872 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @11:57AM (#7952641) Homepage
    I wonder what this might do to the insurance business. Lets say perhaps they predict a 7 or greater in LA in the next 4 months... Now a smart person living in that area would go beef up their earthquake or homeowners insurance (or buy some if they don't have it already).

    But a smarter insurance company might decide not to sell any more quake insurance until after the deadline if you live in that area.

    So now we know they are coming but can't do much to protect ourselves other than getting out of the area.
  • Re:PBS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:01PM (#7952680) Homepage
    True, but like anything else, it follows natural laws, so it is possible to predict it, if we can find an easy way to consider all the variables ( or most of them, at least ).

    Which is why I am confident we will someday find a way to predict ( with 100% accuracy ) weather patterns.

    My god, are you channeling Von Neumann? He said the same thing about weather and predicted 100% accurate prediction "very soon now" for quite a while. The problem is, "most of" the variables isn't enough, and there's no way to get all of the variables exactly right. Even if you had (say) a temperature sensor for each cubic inch of air space in the atmosphere, the temperature variations between the sensors will make any model you base off your sensor readings deviate from reality after a relatively small number of iterations. Complex iterative models are often insanely sensitive to initial conditions. There will never be 100% accurate weather prediction.

  • by graniteMonkey ( 87619 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:01PM (#7952684)
    Reading the /. headline, you'd think that "scientists have learned how to predict earthquakes", but the glaring hole I'm seeing in the article is the absence of the a success rate. Sure, it "predicted" a couple of quakes, but how many false positives did it produce? How accurate were the predictions? Was it "a 95% chance of an earthquake between 4.5 and 4.6 magnitude within 100km of x? Was it "an unknown percent chance of an earthquake between 4.0 and 9.0(a really huge difference) "somewhere in California"?

    This article is extremely vague about the accuracy or precision of the method, and limited to small test areas.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd like us to be able to predict devastating earthquakes to help minimize casualties, but this is way too early to call it news.
  • by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:04PM (#7952718) Homepage

    Who mods this stuff?

    Would you hang around or invest in a place where there's a big quake known to be coming in the next few months?

    Apparently the answer is Yes. California--with the earthquakes, fires, mud slides, Bonos and Schwarzeneggers --is the most populous state in the union. So people do hang around despite imminent doom.

    And it's not just the nuts on the west coast. Idiots from Florida to the Carolinas continue to build houses in the ocean. Sure it looks like dry land today, but wait until the next hurricane comes through. Just like the California quakes it's a question of 'when' not 'if'.

    So how can better predictions be bad for the local economy? Is there going to be a mass exodus? "Oh no! There's going to be an earthquake, let's all move to South Dakota!" If it hasn't happened yet, I doubt it's going to happen. And I'm sure SD prefers to be left alone anyway.

    So rather than scaring off residents and business, maybe better predictions will help reduce damage and injury, which might help reduce insurance rates and costs of doing business in diaster-prone areas.

    So if this turns out to be true, not only would it not be a disaster to the economy, it would be a huge asset.

    Although it helps you prepare, life can't be normal after that.

    Have you watched the news lately? Do you know the supreme executive of the state is 'Hercules in New York'? I would guess a life most of us would consider normal is not something most Californians need to worry about.

  • Re:local economies (Score:3, Insightful)

    by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:10PM (#7952801)
    Are you saying we should supress both the progress of science and the freedom of information in order to protect these local economies? In addition to the clear and measurable cost in human life?

    Seems a little short-sighted, and, well, greedy . . .

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:12PM (#7952845) Journal
    Yes, and those idiots who build on the ocean in Florida royally piss me off. Our state government has very tough insurance laws, that essentially say that you can't turn somebody down for homeowner's insurance, even though they live right on coast, and the chance of their home being completely demolished in the next few years is 100%, and there are maximum premiums beyond which you are not allowed to charge. So, many insurance companies simply choose not to do business in Florida, and those that do have to jack the premiums up on everybody to near the maximum to cover the payouts for the idiots on the coast. I wish the state would change these stupid laws, and say, "hey, if you choose to build your home in a place where it's going to get thwamped, don't come crying to us when, gosh darn, it gets thwamped!"
  • by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:13PM (#7952867) Homepage Journal
    I understand your point, which is valid, but I also wanted to ensure that noone got *to* excited over this, and to press the point that much more testing of this is necessary.

    I mean, how many earthquakes do they miss? What's their accuracy rate? There is a lot of power is claiming to predict catastrophe, but it only takes one public slip up to stain the entire operation.

    At this accuracy it might help larger organizations, but I wouldn't sell my house on their advice.

    Ergo, their system is little more impressive than mine in respect to the common man, because everyone knows where quakes hit. (if they predict every major quake like this for two years, I'll change my tune.)
  • by Starky ( 236203 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:16PM (#7952900)
    To take from the old economist joke, it sounds as if they will be considered successful if they predict at least 9 of the next 5 earthquakes.
  • by Jerry ( 6400 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:27PM (#7953023)
    that some parts of the USA will be colder than other parts sometime in the next year.

    What's really informative about all of these models is that they pretend to model chaotic events. The lessons taught by Dr Lorenz fall on greedy ears.

    They can go around predicting earthquakes, but miss just one and their creditbility, and funding, dry up. And miss one they will. These boys need to move their focus to modeling ground water movements. There's government money to be made doing that, or you can supress property rights or free enterprise, and no one will get a chance to criticize your work because the government and the biggest special interest groups are behind it. So, how do you avoid the strange attractor and arrive at previously determined conclusions? Simple. You use the big, second order differential equations as eye candy to blind the ignorant, then you substitute linear equations, disguised with a lot of greek letters, super and subscripts, amid a flood of jargon. Then you run your model backwards! Yup! You start with your desired conclusion and run your model backward to a set a 'inputs', adjusting co-efficients along the way to help out. It doesn't take long to find those 'inputs' in the huge pile of 'data' you've collected. That makes it easy to avoid the insensitivity, nonuniqueness and instability that is common in non-linear systems. Non-linear? That's what the atmosphere, ground water and earth movements are. That they could be accurately and fairly modeled by what are essentially y=mx+b (linear) equations is foolish, if not dishonest. ml

    Of course, that doesn't stop some people from claiming that all they need to do to circumvent Chaos is discover more 'accurate' models. These folks also while away the hours inventing perpetual motion machines or over-unity power sources. Why not? They spent the better part of 50 years writing papers based on the Piltdown Man.
    And what did they do after the hoax was discovered? They claimed they knew it was a hoax all along! In the meantime, over 500 'learned' papers were written using the Piltdown Man as proof of all sorts of Evolutionary theories. Who knows how many Doctorates were handed out on the basis of that scam. But, who cares? Lots of grants were given, salaries funded and careers made using those phony bones. The scams are the same, the bones have changed.

  • Right ..... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:58PM (#7953370)
    Ditto for hurricanes, floods, blizzards, fires, tornadoes, drought ....

    You remind me of my brother. Pisses and moans about paying for hurricane victims in Florida, then wanted a dam built to protect his house from a 100 year flood that he bought knowing it was in a flood plain.
  • Re:PBS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:38PM (#7953795) Journal
    Strict weather prediction will never happen; see the sibling post to your own. QM actually prevents it, believe it or not.

    What could conceivably happen is that we start manipulating weather on a large scale, and we might learn how to bend weather to our will. We'd need essentially random corrections due to the forces of chaos, but conceivably with enough control, we could say "It will rain 3 inches on this site three years in the future" (with the implicit assumption the weather control grid will still be working, i.e., no major nuclear war, no nearby supernovas, etc.).

    But that's not prediction, that's control, and there's a big difference. The unpredictability of the system would still manifest itself as a complete inability to predict in advance what inputs to the system would be necessary to maintain the states we desire; we'd have to correct dynamically and in the short-term. So, even this doesn't solve the "predictability" problem, it just pushes it out one meta-level; the fundamental unpredictability remains.

    Seriously though, we may not be able to imagine how it will work, or the solutions we can imagine don't work at all, but I'm confident it will happen, both for earthquakes and weather and anything else overly complex. Note that I did not say sometime soon, although I would like to see that too, I understand the technology and science we need just isn't up to par yet.

    "Science" has proven that it can't work. Making those things work requires that the impossible be done. Arguments of the form "If an impossible thing happens, another impossible thing can happen" are trivially logically true, but not relevant in the real world.

    Before you continue to assert how I will eventually be "proven wrong by the unbounded and unimaginable progress of humanity!!!1!!", please study the computer science concept of reduction; any solution to the weather prediction problem reduces to a method to penetrate the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle fog, which would cause the complete collapse of particle physics as we know them (and remember, advances historically speaking refine past theories, not destroy them). If you still believe at that point that we might get past it, at least then you'll have some vague glimmering of the magnitude of power you are claiming we can obtain; I get no sense that you realize how scientifically and mathematically silly you're being from your current messages.

    While you're at it, might want to study Godel's Incompleteness Theorum too, and the Halting Problem; there are just some limits we aren't going to go past, and as science gets more refined it can define them more and more completely.
  • Riiight (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Czernobog ( 588687 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:51PM (#7953939) Journal
    Just about any University in a seismically active country, has at least one team or a scientist claiming to have created/discovered an x% accurate method of predicting when, where and how earthquakes will happen.
    Unfortunately either that x is too low, or the method questioned, or worse discredited, by fellow seismologists.

    You see this field of science is quite possibly the one where most backstabbing for funding takes place. The stakes are very high and so is the money and the fame if someone gets it right.
    Right now, the world's most advanced state in seismic/disaster protection and planning, Japan, is looking at at least 3 schemes I've heard of...
    So the question is. What's so special about just another possibly valuable, higly unlikely to be accurate prediction scheme?

  • It seems to me that the focus has been diverted from building the infrastructure necessary to cope with earthquakes (in terms of buildings as well as emergency care) to instead predicting them in advance.

    What evidence do you have in support of that statement? This article is about a presumably small team of Russian scientists' work for 20 years. Maybe a few other seismologists worldwide watching and potentially trying to reproduce their research. How is that a shift in focus? What would these seismologists know about emergency care of the injured, or structural engineering to make sure the buildings can withstand the quakes?

    You know, screw it. It's just science. Let's focus on the really important stuff, right? All those meteorolgists on the Weather Channel should really get their acts together and just resign, become EMTs or structural engineers, and move to beach houses in NC where they can be of *real* help for the next hurricane... Or maybe a trailer park in KS for the next tornado...

    Maybe, just maybe, there's room in the big, crazy world for both fields of endeavor (prediction and response).
  • That assumes... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ayanami Rei ( 621112 ) <> on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:38PM (#7954419) Journal
    that whatever methods used are not specific to trends of the seismic regions they studied (i.e. California).
  • by GeoGreg ( 631708 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:55PM (#7954606)

    Actually, though I'm no expert in the field, my impression is that chaos theory tells us that while we may not be able to make precise predictions with imperfect data, it is possible to discern patterns in data that are very sensitive to initial conditions. Thus "strange attractors" and the like. I don't know if the Russian/UCLA group is on to anything or not. I believe that most workers in earthquake seismology feel that precise prediction of earthquakes is impossible (e.g., magnitude 7.3 in LA on March 3). However, there are still many people who believe that forecasts may be possible. But if the forecasts are no better than chance based on average earthquake rates in a region, then they aren't very useful. That's what I want to know; can these UCLA guys do better than I could by looking up seismicity figures for a particular area?

    I'm not sure what Piltdown Man has to do with any of this. If you are saying that the UCLA group or others working on similar problems are hoaxing or committing fraud, that's a pretty serious charge. Do you have any evidence for this? On the other hand, if you merely are asserting that they are wrong, that happens all the time in science and is to be expected. Piltdown Man and an incorrect method of quake prediction are rather different types of error. There are enough quake prediction skeptics in seismology (probably a majority) that I'm sure these results will be thoroughly scrutinized.

  • by Jerry ( 6400 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @03:26PM (#7954917)
    Just because in the past it has not been possible to predict this sort of thing accurately does not mean it will not be possible in the future and therefore is not worth spending money on.


    That's like saying, for example, that just because working perpetual motion machines haven't been made in the past doesn't mean they won't be made in the future.

    Such a statement does not take into account the physical reality of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics. 1) You cannot get more energy out of a process than you put into it. 2) Not only can you not get more out, you can't even get out what you put in. 3) To get out all of what you put in, your process must vent waste energy to ZERO degrees Kelvin, which is impossible to reach... hence, you can't get out of the game.

    As far as weather, water and earth... energy inputs to those systems cannot be mapped to specific output results.... they are not deterministic! Small changes in inputs can result in wildly different outputs (insensitive to initial conditions), or a given input doesn't always give the same output (nonuniqueness) or the system goes into wild oscillations (instability). Man HAS NO CONTROL over how much energy is put into these systems, even if he could measure them, and their models cannot reliability make any predictions as to the result of those inputs. It doesn't matter if they are considered linear or nonlinear systems. The best one can do is graph the strange attractor that resides behind a particular system. For a given input, the longer the process is allowed to continue, the more unpredictable the results will be. The best weather "models" can only go about 10-14 days into the future, and the results are given only in percentages in an area. They do that by running the same data in several different models and averaging the results. And, although they may "predict" a 30% chance for rain in your area, you have no assurance that it will rain at all on your house, your block or your city. Perhaps not even on your county or that area of your state.

    It is intersting to note that the stock market is a chaotic system too. That's why you don't see any models predicting the price of Gold or any other stock on January 12, 2005 at 1:43 PM to within ten cents per ounce... or even a dollar per ounce. He who can do that rules the market. If these people truely had the ability to create models which accurately predict the dynamics of chaotic systems they'd test them first in the stock market. That they don't says volumes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 12, 2004 @03:31PM (#7954960)

    People expect that earthquake prediction would be accurate to within a few hours, so that evacuations can be accomplished, while avoiding unneccessary evacuations. The trouble is, evacuations are expensive, have their own hazards, and it's going to be incredibly hard to choose the lesser evil of bad evacuation timing, versus the present practice of not evacuating and being unprepared for the quake.

    Evacuation isn't necessary, it's enough to get people out of high-risk buildings.

  • by wirelessbuzzers ( 552513 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @03:53PM (#7955139)
    ... your post seems to have little actual merit.

    That's like saying, for example, that just because working perpetual motion machines haven't been made in the past doesn't mean they won't be made in the future.

    No it's not. Predicting earthquakes is not known to be impossible, whereas perpetual motion machines are.

    As far as weather, water and earth... energy inputs to those systems cannot be mapped to specific output results.... they are not deterministic! Small changes in inputs can result in wildly different outputs (insensitive to initial conditions), or a given input doesn't always give the same output (nonuniqueness) or the system goes into wild oscillations (instability).

    This isn't true... the system is deterministic, disregarding quantum effects. It is chaotic, which means, as you said, that small changes can result in wildly different outputs. You also don't cite any evidence that earthquakes are highly chaotic. Given that many of the effects leading up to an earthquake take place on long timescales, chaos isn't so much of an issue as in weather prediction. Also, the amount of energy involved could make it like predicting a hurricane. You know there will be hurricanes in the Carribbean when the energy is there, and once one starts forming, you can tell approximately where it will hit. And unlike weather, the stress patterns that control earthquakes don't move much at all.

    What's more of a problem is getting the data. It's hard to tell the stress on the rocks several miles beneath the surface, so a detailed model that allows computation of these stresses from other data is key.

    If these people truely had the ability to create models which accurately predict the dynamics of chaotic systems they'd test them first in the stock market. That they don't says volumes.

    Err? What are you talking about? You can't take a model for one chaotic system and port it to another, entirely dissimilar one (except for a few error-bounding theorems and the like). The forces in the market are entirely different from those under the earth, and modeling one does not mean you can model another. Furthermore, the market is a minority game, so any improvement in modeling has a tendency to cancel itself out as more people begin using it.
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @04:14PM (#7955416) Homepage Journal

    If this turns out to be true, it would be a disaster for the economy in an area. Would you hang around or invest in a place where there's a big quake known to be coming in the next few months?

    Well I do. I've grown up in Wellington, New Zealand, which is on a major fault line and expecting a significant chance of a big earthquake some time in the next 20 years. The city would originally have been built about 20 kms to the north, except in the mid-1800's, another big earthquake majorly changed the shape of the harbour, preventing big ships from getting to the other location and allowing them in here. You can walk down the main streets in the central business district and see plaques marking where the shoreline was in 1840.

    You can't prevent an earthquake like this, but you can make a big effort to plan ahead for it. If everything's prepared for and especially if you were to know exactly where and when it's coming (which we currently don't), then why should it be a big problem for the economy?

    For example, New Zealand has strict building codes that are designed to largely withstand big earthquakes. Large buildings are designed to be able to shift to a certain degree on their foundations as the ground moves underneath them, and tall buildings are designed to be able to sway in order to relieve stress.

    We also know that the movement of the plate that the CBD is on is upwards rather than downwards, so at least it's not going to leave the CBD underwater, although the plate on the other side of the harbour is sliding underneath, so the people on that side of the harbour might not be so lucky with their property. That side of the harbour has significantly less development going on. People are trained to keep emergency kits handy, with canned food and fresh water. For decades now the schools have been training children about what to do in an earthquake and how to locate safe areas and structures. Civil defence is stationed in an area much further north which is a designated safe zone based on geophysical knowledge. The main concern at the moment are the roads in and out of the place, which so far have been expensive to build because of the surrounding hills and terrain... In an emergency, lots of people are going to want to temporarily get in and out, especially out.

    Of course, if you think it's unusual living in an area expecting a big earthquake, then consider Auckland (800 kms north of here) where 1.5 million people live mingled around and in-between roughly 50 extinct volcanoes. (I hear the volcanic soil's a very high quality.)

    The short story is that it's the nature of living in these places. People aren't going anywhere, so instead they do everything possible to prepare for it. The only difference with investments is that they should also invest in a bit of extra preparation, and experience so far shows that they do.

    An even more accurate warning would, I'm sure, be welcome, as long as it were actually accurate. The economy moves with the people, and if it were accurately known that an earthquake were coming, people would either prepare locally or make temporary provisions to have their critical operations moved elsewhere... and then they would eventually come back again for the same reasons they were here before. Surely such preparations could only be good for the economy in general, since it's clearer what preparations are needed and when they're needed.

    On the other hand, if it were known for certain that no earthquakes or volcanoes were going to hit in the upcoming years, we could stop wasting effort preparing for them needlessly.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead