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Earthquakes Coming?But When?

UCLA earthquake expert Vladimir Keilis-Borok predicted amajor quake in southern California last weekend?but itdidn't come. And global warming is causing rapidly meltingglaciers in Alaska, paving the way for future quakes.

In January, Keilis-Borok predicted there was a 50-50 chanceof a 6.4 magnitude or larger earthquake hitting a 12,000square mile desert area east of Los Angeles by Sunday. Hepredicted this based on a mathematical formula which he'dalready used to successfully forecast a 6.5 earthquake incentral California in December 2003 and the 8.1 quake thathit the Japanese island of Hokkaido in September.

"It doesn't look like the earthquake will fill this window,"says seismologist John Vidale. "I'm sure he is not happy ifhis prediction is not fulfilled because he sees this ascrusade against the skeptics who have been digging in theirheels for decades." Until Keilis-Borok proved thatmini quakescan predict a major quake, most scientists thought there wasno valid way to predict earthquakes.

Seismologist Kate Hutton says, "He's out there on a limb.He's the only one doing it in this country. We do getearthquake predictions from crackpots but he's a well-knownscientist. We know eventually there's going to be anearthquake, and we know where the shaking is going to bebad. But what we don't know is when." Vidale says that even if there's a quake this week in thepredicted area, "technically that would be a miss. We wouldall be happier if there was some harmless earthquake thatfilled this prediction, but the earth tells us how itbehaves. We don't tell it."

Alan Schnepf writes in San Bernardino Sun that Keilis-Boroknow says the prediction was based on faulty data. He says,"It's not something that has absolute precision. It's kindof like military intelligence. There is a trade off. Tellpeople nothing and they will suffer. Tell them everythingand they will suffer in another way."

In planetark.com, Jill Serjeant quotes one seismologist assaying, "Even if he was right, what can you do in asix-month window? You are far more likely to be murdered inL.A. than die in an earthquake in California."

Global warming is showing up inAlaska first,as the ground is literally melting away beneath some oftheir cities. Now NASA says rapidly melting glaciers theremay pave the way for future earthquakes.

In southern Alaska, a tectonic plate under the Pacific Oceanis pushing into the coast, creating pressure which can onlybe relieved by a quake. The St. Elias earthquake in 1979,which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, was probably causedby melting glaciers.

As glaciers melt they lighten the load on the Earth's crust,allowing tectonic plates to move more freely. NASA?s JeanneSauber says, "Historically, when big ice masses started toretreat, the number of earthquakes increased. More than10,000 years ago, at the end of the great ice age, bigearthquakes occurred in Scandinavia as the large glaciersbegan to melt. In Canada, many more moderate earthquakesoccurred as ice sheets melted there.

"In the future, in areas like Alaska where earthquakes occurand glaciers are changing, their relationship must beconsidered to better assess earthquake hazard, and oursatellite assets are allowing us to do this by tracking thechanges in extent and volume of the ice, and movement of theEarth."

A big earthquake can seem like theendof the world (this book is now onsale!)

Photo credits: http://www.freeimages.co.uk/

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