Can earthquakes be predicted?

The Peru earthquake of May 31, 1970 caused slumping and cracking of this paved road. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
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U.S. Geological Survey FAQs:

"No. Neither the USGS nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.

However, based on scientific data, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes. For example, scientists estimate there is a 76% probability that a magnitude 7 earthquake will occur within the next 30 years in northern California. The probability is 75% for southern California (see our Earthquake Forecast Fact Sheet).

The USGS focuses its efforts on the long-term mitigation of earthquake hazards by helping to improve the safety of structures, rather than by trying to accomplish short-term predictions."

However, the USGS and other scientists are working on an earthquake early warning (EEW) system for the United States. EEW systems cannot predict earthquakes, but instead detect an earthquake just after it begins. Such systems can provide anywhere from a few seconds to minutes of warning, giving time for people to prepare and take cover.

EEW systems are already operating in several countries including Japan, Turkey, and Mexico. The USGS has tested a demonstration EEW system in California called ShakeAlert and has published a plan to expand the system to be able to issue public alerts.

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