Earthquake prediction – some thoughts and four interviews

Since the L’Aquila trial has caused a lot of attention and an outcry of the scientific community, topics like earthquake prediction and earthquake forecasting are widely discussed in blogs and media. Often enough, people that claim to be scientists pretend they could predict earthquakes. These pseudo-predictions are based either on measuring geophysical phenomena (like temperature, gas emissions, electromagnetic fields, light phenomena, sun-moon-earth tidal forces and interactions etc.), animal behaviour (toads, snakes, dogs etc.) or even crazier things (horoscopes, blasphemy, earthquake weapons…). None of these “methods” works. Earthquake prediction is currently not possible. Remember that any successfull prediction would include:

  • date and time (precise enough to justify evacuations)
  • location (precise enough to justify evacuations)
  • magnitude (precise enough to justify evacuations)

Often people forget that a successfull prediction also includes the information where and when NO earthquake will happen. The only thing we can currently do is to provide an idea of probabilities where and when earthquakes will strike. This is what we learn from past events and what is included in our seismic hazard maps.

Annals of Geophysics published a review article on the state of the art of earthquake prediction, which is really worth reading: Jordan et al. 2011: OPERATIONAL EARTHQUAKE FORECASTING. State of Knowledge and Guidelines for Utilization.

What also came into my mind is the Fault Line Living project. In 2010, this was “a 15,000 mile expedition and multi-media project exploring the human stories of people living on fault lines.” During their trip, the authors visited some of the most earthquake-prone areas of Europe and talked to local people and scientists. Watching the interviews with our colleagues Dimitrios Papanikolaou and Gerald Roberts again, I just realized how interesting the things they have to say are in the light of the recent L’Aquila affair.

Gerald Roberts: An introduction to Earthquake Geology:

Dr Gerald Roberts – An Introduction to Earthquake Geology from Adam Whitaker on Vimeo.

Gerald Roberts on new techniques:

Dr Gerald Roberts from Adam Whitaker on Vimeo.

Dimitrios Papanikolaou on Earthquake Geology in Greece:

Professor Dimitris Papanikolaou introduction from Adam Whitaker on Vimeo.

Dimitrios Papanikolaou on earthquake prediction, seismic hazard and public preparedness:

Dr Dimitris Papanikolaou from Adam Whitaker on Vimeo.



Jordan, T.H., Chen, Y.-T., Gasparini, P., Madariaga, R., Main, I., Marzocchi, W.,  Papadopoulos, G., Sobolev, G., Yamaoka, K., Zschau, J. 2011: OPERATIONAL EARTHQUAKE FORECASTING. State of Knowledge and Guidelines for Utilization. Annals Of Geophysics, 54(4), 316-391, doi:10.4401/ag-5350.
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Christoph Grützner

Christoph Grützner

works at the Institute of Geological Sciences, Jena University. He likes Central Asia and the Mediterranean and looks for ancient earthquakes.

See all posts Christoph Grützner

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