Patt Morrison for July 19, 2010

Forecasting earthquakes with a very large doughnut

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Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Is there a way to predict Earthquakes, or at least where they might strike next?

Predicting an earthquake may seem as easy as winning the Nobel Prize. But seismologists just might be able to forecast when the next big one will be in California with the advanced technology of… a doughnut? Actually, it’s the Mogi doughnut, a concept developed by Japanese seismologist Kiyoo Mogi that traces how small earthquakes can occur in a circular pattern, leading to one massive earthquake in the doughnut hole. UC Davis geologist John Rundle sees a strong connection between our three fault lines, the San Jacinto, Elsinore, and San Andreas, all of which have seen multiple earthquakes over the past decade. Predicting earthquakes, though, may lead seismologists into shaky territory. Many experts agree that predicting connotes certainty, and earthquakes are known to be highly unpredictable. So where do we draw the line between forecasting and predicting? And even if the doughnut concept is true, are we even prepared for a major shaker?

Guests:

John Rundle, Distinguished Professor at the University of California Davis, and
external professor at the the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Thomas H. Jordan, W. M. Keck Professor of Earth Sciences and Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at USC


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