Earthquakes

Bay Area Scientists Finding Ways to Predict Earthquakes

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s a question people have been trying to answer for decades, is it possible to predict the next big earthquake?

In Portola Valley, which is only about a 1,000 feet or so from the San Andreas Fault. Researchers at QuakeFinder are finding an opportunity to learn more about possible earthquake prediction.

Two of the scientists behind the research group took NBC Bay Area to one of the 125 magnetometers running 24/7 throughout California.

The systems capture filter and record magnetic energy just before any quake with a magnitude of 4.5 or higher, searching for a predictable pattern.

Tom Bleier got the idea from magnetic signals detected by Stanford just prior to the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

Over a 20-year period, with encouragement and funding from Stellar Solutions in Palo Alto, Bleier and Dan Schneider expanded the project, trying to figure out if those magnetic signals could predict quakes.

“We didn’t have a statistical base. So we made the decision, ‘let’s put out all the magnetometers that we can.’ Twenty miles apart, along the major faults in California. San Andreas being one of them and see whether or not things happen repeatedly,” Bleier said.

We went along with USGS scientists as they installed sensors for “Shake Alert.” “Shake Alert” doesn’t predict earthquakes, but it can give people “seconds” to prepare before the stronger shaking begins.

Schneider and a team at Google Research focused on magnetic activity one to three days before 19 medium-to-large earthquakes.

They said they found signals in the days just before the quakes -- a big breakthrough as far as they’re concerned.

“So, this published study points in the direction that there is something to be looking for in the magnetic field and the major obstacle is the will to fund the research,” said Schneider.

QuakeFinder is quick to point out that while it may be a big step, it's still just a single step in earthquake forecasting.

In fact, some scientists at USGS have dismissed some of the findings, said the results aren’t that useful.

Still, QuakeFinder is encouraged and said finding a way to predict earthquakes short term, even as a probability, is worth the effort. But they added it could take years to get that confidence up to a high level and that will require more findings and funding.

Bay Area researchers are finding an opportunity to learn more about possible earthquake prediction. Raj Mathai speaks with Dan Schneider with QuakeFinder on this.
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