Environment & Science

Researchers seek to better understand what causes earthquakes

People search on September 8, 2017 amid the rubble of buildings which collapsed in Juchitan de Zaragoza, state of Oaxaca, after an 8.2 earthquake that hit Mexico's Pacific coast overnight.
Mexico's most powerful earthquake in a century killed at least 35 people, officials said, after it struck the Pacific coast, wrecking homes and sending families fleeing into the streets.
People search on September 8, 2017 amid the rubble of buildings which collapsed in Juchitan de Zaragoza, state of Oaxaca, after an 8.2 earthquake that hit Mexico's Pacific coast overnight. Mexico's most powerful earthquake in a century killed at least 35 people, officials said, after it struck the Pacific coast, wrecking homes and sending families fleeing into the streets.
PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

Scientists from across the globe are congregating in Palm Springs this week to discuss and better understand the causes behind a threat that is top-of-mind for many in Southern California: earthquakes. 

The Southern California Earthquake Center's annual conference runs through Wednesday, where leading seismologists are joined by engineers, computer scientists and policymakers in their discussions of recent research that can help them better prepare for possible quakes. 

Jason Ballmann, a spokesman for the Center, told KPCC that one of the issues the conference will cover is the issue of how the ground shakes during an earthquake: The more scientists understand about how the ground moves, the better they can advise developers and home owners how their property might be affected by a quake. 

Earthquake forecasting is another important element to be reviewed at the conference, Ballmann said. 

"Unfortunately we still can't predict earthquakes," Ballman said, so it is important for scientists to learn how to communicate risk factors to the general public in a way that is easy to understand.

"How do we best express the state of California's seismic future? What's the best way to get people to know about the earthquakes that are coming up in their life potentially?

In addition to the conversations prepared for conference attendees, Ballman said there is an upcoming opportunity for people to learn more about how earthquakes might affect them. 

The Great California ShakeOut event on Oct. 19 is "everyone's chance to take one minute out of the year to practice earthquake safety," Ballmann said. The event, sponsored by the Center, coordinates with partners around the country to educate the public on how to survive and recover from earthquakes.