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Could examining smaller quakes help forecast bigger ones in California?




SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Third grade students at William L. Cobb Elementary School take cover under desks as they participate in the
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 20: Third grade students at William L. Cobb Elementary School take cover under desks as they participate in the "Great California ShakeOut" earthquake drill on October 20, 2011 in San Francisco, California. An estimated 8 million Californians will take place in the fourth annual Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill which will help educate residents prepare for a major earthquake. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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One thing that makes earthquakes so scary? You never know when one might occur.

Scientists have been trying to come up with ways to predict quakes for decades, but a true solution has been elusive for just as long.

Now, there's a new approach that looks at smaller quakes as a way of forecasting bigger ones. It's a system almost perfectly tailored to the Golden State, due to our geographical placement along the San Andreas fault.

Morgan Page is with the U.S. Geological Survey and an author of a new report that looks at how earthquake forecasting can help improve earthquake resilience.

When Page spoke to A Martinez, she was at Southern California Earthquake Center's annual meeting in Palm Springs. One of the hot topics being discussed? Earthquake forecasting.

Although it sounds similar to what earthquake prediction might be, it's not. Page was quick to clarify that.

"As seismologists today, we try to avoid what we call the 'P' word, prediction, because with it, comes the expectation that we can really precisely tell people when and where a big earthquake is going to occur.

We can't say, 'At exactly noon tomorrow, this event is going to happen.' But that doesn't mean we don't know anything. We know a lot about which areas are more likely to have a big earthquake and we know a lot about which times are more dangerous relative to other times, based on seismic activity that's happening."

 To hear more about how earthquake forecasting works and how seismologists hope to implement it as a tool in the future, click the blue play button above.