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Earthquakes cannot be predicted

Robert J. Geller, David D. Jackson, Yan Y. Kagan, & Francesco Mulargia

Published March 14, 1997, SCEC Contribution #404

Can the time, location, and magnitude of future earthquakes be predicted reliably and accurately? In their Perspective, Geller et al.'s answer is "no." Citing recent results from the physics of nonlinear systems "chaos theory," they argue that any small earthquake has some chance of cascading into a large event. According to research cited by the authors, whether or not this happens depends on unmeasurably fine details of conditions in Earth's interior. Earthquakes are therefore inherently unpredictable. Geller et al. suggest that controversy over prediction lingers because prediction claims are not stated as objectively testable scientific hypotheses, and due to overly optimistic reports in the mass media.

Geller, R. J., Jackson, D. D., Kagan, Y. Y., & Mulargia, F. (1997). Earthquakes cannot be predicted. Science, 275(5306), 1616-1617. doi: 10.1126/science.275.5306.1616.