On anniversary of Landers earthquake, scientists review progress in technology
A session of the Japanese parliament is being rebroadcast on a screen at the front of a classroom at Caltech.
Without warning, a "ping" sound is heard on audio, and a message bar at the bottom of the screen informs viewers that an earthquake has struck off the coast of Japan. It's the beginning of the devastating March 2011 tsunami disaster on the east coast of Japan.
It will be more than one minute before the members of the Japanese parliament start to feel the shaking and look up at the swaying lights. But in that time, the broadcast has been interrupted with public announcements about the earthquake, residents of affected areas have been warned to take cover, planes, elevators and subways have stopped, lives have been saved.
"Millions of people got warnings before they felt the shaking," said Doug Given, earthquake early warning coordinator for the USGS.
Given was one of the speakers at a U.S. Geological Survey conference Thursday at Caltech to mark the 20th anniversary of the magnitude 7.3 Landers earthquake on June 28, 1992. The Landers quake was linked to three deaths and an estimated $92 million in damage.
The conference at Caltech brought together government officials, emergency workers and the media to learn from USGS scientists what happened at Landers and what would be different today, based on tools the USGS now provides.
Scientists now have an array of sophisticated earthquake products for SouthernCalifornia, such as "ShakeMaps," which show the severity of shaking in various geographical regions; earthquake probability models; and PAGER (Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response), which gives estimates of potential fatalities, costs and exposed populations in about 20 minutes from the start of a quake.
The information allows first responders to react to the areas where need is greatest. It also prioritizes inspections of bridges and overpasses where they are most needed.
Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist who got the nickname "Earthquake Mom" after appearing on TV with her sons after an earthquake, said the data in the ShakeMaps used to take months to produce.
"All of the things we can give you now in minutes" took months in Landers, she said.
Jones, who was one of the scientists at the Landers quake, spoke on the USGS Operational Earthquake Forecasting project, an effort to provide communities with information that can be used to make decisions in advance of potentially destructive earthquakes.
While scientists cannot predict earthquakes, they know earthquakes occur in clusters. When an earthquake occurs, the likelihood of another quake increases.
"It's been really quiet for the last 18 years," Jones said during a conference break. "Don't count on it lasting."
But progress to warn residents immediately after an earthquake, such as was done in Japan, has stalled in the United States.
According to Given, California has a test system in place, but it's just a test system "put together with duct tape and baling wire."
Going the next step will take additional government funding, which hasn't been available in recent years, Given said. The system would take two to three years to develop given funding, he said.
What people could do with even a few seconds warning of a pending earthquake is substantial. People can be warned to take cover, automated systems can react or shut down. It's feasible, it works and it's worth it, said Given.
"It can protect lives and property," he said.
Predicting an earthquake? Maybe someday, says UTA professor
Posted on June 28, 2012
JOSHUA - There is steam rising from the blacktop road in rural Johnson County.
It's summer. It's Texas. They're used to the ground below them sizzling, but not shaking.
"Never felt anything like that before," said Dana Bruce, a lifelong resident of Joshua, describing what she felt Sunday at a potluck lunch at Lane Prairie Baptist Church.
"We had tables down the middle, a food line going for our potluck," explained fellow church member Cathy McCarthy. "I had just gotten our plates and forks."
Terry Potter, 18, was in the gym, at a table.
"I was sitting here eating," he said.
Suddenly, the ground beneath all of them began to move.
"I was walking through this hallway," Bruce said, "and about right here, I stopped because it went..." She paused and made a waving motion with her arms.
"The ceiling was rattling," she continued. "It felt like you were in a little box and somebody was shaking you around. Everybody said, 'I think that was an earthquake!' We were looking around, it didn't last very long, so we just went back to eating."
Lane Prairie Baptist has been in Joshua 141 years, and it's doubtful there had ever been a Sunday service with an earthquake.
"I didn't really like it," Bruce said, with a laugh.
There was no explanation. And certainly no warning, but maybe in the future there could be.
Right now, no one can predict when an earthquake will occur.
"It's not possible, in the sense that an average person believes in predictions," said UT-Arlington Earth and Environmental Studies Professor Glen Mattioli.
While he can't predict them, he can explain them. Especially the big ones.
Mattioli has been working in and studying the Caribbean since the late 1970's. He and other UTA researchers are putting in a system of GPS receivers there, where an active fault line has produced horrifying tragedies, like the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Those receivers record movements of plates deep beneath the surface, and as scientists track that movement, they uncover what happens just before a big quake strikes.
Through this plotting of the past Mattioli hopes to someday have a better grasp of what's coming in the future.
"There is hope in the scientific community that we will get to a stage that we can give more certain estimates about magnitude, location, maybe even timing of earthquake events," he said.
Mattioli and other UTA researchers leave for Nicaragua in two weeks for intense study there.
But Johnson County has no GPS receivers to study. There is nothing recording movement, because the ground's never moved. This week, there were three minor quakes in three days: Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Mattioli and other scientists say it is possible the movement is linked to re-injection wells associated with gas drilling, but that's a theory yet to be proven.
Since there are no plate boundaries near North Texas, "basic ideas don't work to explain why earthquakes would occur," he said.
"There's a pretty good indication these events are clustered in time and space with some anthropogenic activities, but unless you have a dedicated, highly-sensitive network in place, it's hard to get accurate locations and do proper modeling," Mattioli said.
"Now though, we do have a hypothesis to test," he said of the re-injection well theory.
Potter said he'd lived in Joshua his entire life and he'd never felt anything like what he felt Sunday. He doesn't particularly want to feel it again.
"Especially while I'm eating," he said.
VIDEO AVAILABLE HERE AT SOURCE:
Vei8-Volcanoes of the World Webcams
Roxxfoxx~~Adventures in Geology
Penguin News Today
Penguinology: The Science of Penguins
Gentoo Penguins of Gars O'Higgins Station, Antarctica
Canis lupus 101
Dances with Werewolves
Through Golden Eyes