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Can Earthquakes Be Predicted?

Recently, I was caught in an earthquake. The 6.3 one in Christchurch New Zealand. To date, 166 people have been reported dead. And the number is expected to rise. Sometime, one may wonder, why is it that so many people can get killed in an earthquake? This can mainly be attributed to the sudden nature of it, as it virtually impossible to predict earthquakes, but also to the quality of the housing or commercial structures. Naturally, the magnitude of the earthquake plays an important role too.

In just a few seconds an earthquake can shake a city to rubble and bury lots of persons in the process. Thus, knowing accurately in advance where and when earthquakes will take place could save countless lives. Scientists have for long tried to predict earthquakes. Animals may get agitated just prior to an earthquke. But to save lives, it is important to have a much longer advanced warning system. Otherwise, it is of little use.

One theory propounds that earthquakes are caused by shifting plates beneath the earth’s surface. According to this view, when these “plates” collide, they exert tremendous pressure on the earth crusts. Such movements have to occur along a faultline in the earth’s surface. When that happens, tremendous movements in the ground causes the earthquake.

How do you measure earthquakes? In seismograph readings the earthquake’s magnitude is expressed on the Richter Scale. A reading of 6 signifies a disturbance ten times as great as a reading of 5.  Any reading over 6 is considered to be an earthquake of major magnitude. The earthquake in Christchurch last year was 7.1 and the one that happened in February 22, was 6.3.

Interestingly, and sadly, while the earthquake on Feb 22 was almost 10 times “weaker”, in truth the destruction was far worse than the one that happened on Sep 4, last year. The reason is mainly because this time, the earthquake’s epicentre was much nearer to Christchurch city and occurred just 5km beneath the earth’s surface. On the other hand, the last one was 40km away, and occurred 10km below the surface. Because of the proximity to Christchurch city this time round, many accommodation in Christchurch are destroyed beyond repairs.

Some seismologists have speculated that electrical resistance in subterranean rocks and the level of radon in well water may be the key to earthquake prediction. Some other suggested that satellite photos can be a source of preduction.

However, even the most optimistic experts are careful to conclude this way. This is because earthquake so complicated and diverse that it might be difficult to build a system to predict it accurately. Given the inability of scientists to predict earthquakes, even after thousands of years of study, if you are ever caught in an earthquake, pray.

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