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Are More Big Earthquakes Coming?

It certainly seems as if we've had a lot of earthquakes lately--some of them more dangerous than others. The devastating 2004 Indonesian tsunami, with its death toll of as many as 250,000 people, was caused by the first 9.0 earthquake since 1967. After that came a group of smaller but still destructive quakes in Haiti, Chile, and New Zealand, and then another big one: the 9.0 quake in Japan. Seismologists want to know whether the number of large earthquakes is on the rise (and maybe they're already HERE: Hundreds of earthquakes have been detected in an area of Nevada recently.).

In My 4 News, Brooke Boone quotes seismologist Graham Kent as saying, "The largest earthquakes in these sequences are pretty large in size. These are the biggest in a sequence we've seen at least in the last couple of years."

In PhysOrg.com, Becky Ham quotes geophysicist Richard Aster as saying that the Indonesian quake "reinvigorated interest in these giants." He thinks that, after a lull in large quakes in the 1980s and 1990s, we may now be in the middle of a new age of large earthquakes, and history bears this out: Records from the past century reveal that some periods that have had an unusual number of giant quakes. But not every researcher agrees: Ham quotes UGGS geophysicist Andrew Michael as saying, "Overall, the pattern is random." He thinks that what seem like clusters of large quakes can be explained simply as statistical flukes, and says, "Random doesn't mean evenly spaced out," which is why quakes can seem to bunch together in the historical record.

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