2:00 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Hi. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. I’m J.B. Leedy. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you to please make sure that your cell phones are off or on silent. We are going to have a presentation today with our guest speaker and then the opportunity for you all to ask some questions. Please, before you ask a question, wait for the mike and give us your name and the outlet that you represent before posing your questions. And with that, I’d like to introduce Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey David Applegate.
MR. APPLEGATE: Well, thank you very much. Thank you for coming, and thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about earthquake hazards. The world has certainly had a major teachable moment with the recent great Tohoku earthquake that struck Japan. And indeed, this past year has been an extraordinary one in terms of earthquakes, not just large but also moderate-sized earthquakes that have struck urban areas. And it really underscored the challenge that earthquakes pose – the earthquakes themselves, the aftershocks, the secondary hazards to the resilience of our societies.
But I think the contrast in these earthquakes and in their outcomes is also instructive, that whereas we can’t stop the earthquakes from happening, there is quite a bit that can be done in terms of making our communities more resilient, whether it’s in terms of building codes, preparedness, or the rapidity and richness of the information that we have for response. And so I’m going to talk a little bit about some of those aspects and some of the efforts that are underway in my own agency, the U.S. Geological Survey.
And just to start out, I wanted to say a few words about our role. We actually work across many different hazards. Here in the U.S., we’re an agency within the Department of the Interior. We’ve got responsibility for issuing notifications and warnings on earthquakes and other geologic hazards, and then we support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration across a number of other hazards with stream gauges that support flood warnings as they’re happening right now in our upper Midwest, and with the seismic centers that I’ll be talking about supporting their tsunami warning responsibilities.
And then finally, our geospatial capabilities that help across a wide range of hazards. Now, specific to earthquakes, we’re part of a four-agency effort, the purpose of which is to take the science and the improved understanding and get it into implementation. And so we work with the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and most importantly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA to make sure that the ideas and understanding really do get translated into efforts that are going to reduce future losses.
Within that role, within that partnership, our role is to monitor the earthquakes, to assess the hazard, and that’s a key in terms of understanding how we need to build our structures, ultimately feed into building codes, do targeted research that underpins that, and then finally work across partners at all levels to try to build that culture of preparedness.
So I’m going to start by talking about our roles in earthquake monitoring. Along with the National Science Foundation, we fund a global seismographic network. This is 150 stations that are on all continents and many remote islands that we maintain in conjunction with a university consortium – the IRIS consortium. And the data from these stations all feed into our 24/7 national earthquake information center, which is based in Golden, Colorado, and it’s from there that we issue alerts and notifications for global earthquakes.
Now, just to give you a sense of the – both the data that you get from this network, but especially to give you sense of the scale of this earthquake that struck in March off the west – off the east coast of Japan, this is a diagram that I’m showing with all of the stations, all 150 stations around the globe, and it’s shown in terms of the distance away from the epicenter of that earthquake. And you can see each one picking up the seismic signal from the earthquake. And what you’re watching is the signal go all the way around the world and then come back again and go around the world again, and, in fact, keep on going. Literally, this earthquake made the earth ring like a bell. It was so large that lost in the noise of those seismograms that you see, is a magnitude 7.9 aftershock. So this would have been a considerable earthquake in its own right.
The goal with these networks is to provide useful information, robust information in as usable form as possible. And what I’m showing here is a – it’s an image that – it’s overlaying onto Google Earth showing the main shock, the rectangle is showing the main shock of the magnitude 9 earthquake. And all of the other little orange symbols, those are just the first couple hours worth of aftershocks. Again, one of the big challenges with earthquakes – with a hurricane, the storm passes, and it’s done. With an earthquake, you’re dealing with months, even years in the case of these largest earthquakes, of aftershock activity, which are damaging earthquakes in their own right.
Some of the information from the networks are used then to construct a map to understand where the shaking was generated from. In this case is – there are parts of the interface between where the Pacific plate is diving down beneath Japan where the interface, the fault line between the two of them shifted as much as 40 meters in a sudden jolt and, of course, generated a strong shaking that lasted for many minutes throughout Japan, including, of course, the heaviest populated areas such as Tokyo.
And I should emphasize that whereas we use this global earthquake monitoring system to report on earthquakes everywhere, of course, there also are specific, more detailed regional networks. In the case of the U.S., we have an advanced national seismic system that we use. Of course, the best seismic networks in the world are found in Japan. And one of the great challenges that we face as scientists is to make sure that working with our Japanese colleagues, we are learning everything we possibly can from this event in order to be able to better deal with future events.
So I’m just going to speak for a few minutes about this information that is generated to help with the emergency response, again, with the data coming from these both global and national seismic networks.
And the first piece of information that goes out is a notification – every – anybody who wants to can sign up for this. This is not classified information. This is sent out to everyone at once of how big was the earthquake, where was it located, and some of the initial parameters. We have over 240,000 people now who have signed up to receive these notifications by email or text alert. And it’s very much a system that can be customized so that if you’re only interested, for example, in this case, showing you’re only interested in earthquakes in Utah, but just the same, it could be earthquakes in Indonesia or in Turkey or in anywhere in the world, you can have the alerts tailored to that. You can set a threshold, you can have it set to whether you want to be notified a different – a bigger earthquake if it’s at night, so it doesn’t wake you up. All of these things can be done. All of these things can be done. But the goal is to get out information, again, as quickly as possible after an event.
But what you really want to know is not just the initial location of the earthquake; you want to know where it went and what was the impact. And so this is a tool that we put out usually within the first, say, 15 to 20 minutes after an earthquake. It’s called ShakeMap. And so the colors that you see there on the map reflect shaking intensity. Of course, we always think about earthquake magnitude, that’s the one number that represents the total energy release of an earthquake, but we have a whole separate scale for what was the experience of that earthquake at any given place. It’s called the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, and that’s what you’re seeing on this map. And we’re very fortunate to have former Governor Schwarzenegger – the photograph there of him explaining ShakeMap following an earthquake that we had Los Angeles a couple of years ago. And these maps are put out on the web and they’re also then made available to, for example, emergency operations center, like the one shown here for Los Angeles.
The next challenge for those who are particularly responsible for critical infrastructure then is how do they take that shaking information and turn it into something that they can use to decide on where they need to focus their efforts. And so the next tool that we put out is called a ShakeCast. That takes the ShakeMap and overlays it against facilities. So for example, we work with the California Department of Transportation. They can put all of their overpasses, bridges, and so forth into their own database. They can pull in that ShakeMap and be able to then have emails sent out to their folks saying okay, these are the facilities that you need to focus on first. And this is a system that’s now being used not only by departments of transportation, but by, for example, the Veterans Administration for hospitals. It’s being used internationally as well by a number of different entities to be able to, again, make the information actionable to improve the rapidity of the response.
Now, this is a map – I’m comparing the shaking maps – the ShakeMaps from two separate earthquakes. One of them was – on the left there is the earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile, the magnitude 8.8 earthquake. And there’s the offshore Bali earthquake that was last February. And then on the right is the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Haiti last January. And of course, the first thing you notice is the difference in the scale of these events. The magnitude 7 earthquake compared to a magnitude 8.8 earthquake. So the earthquake that struck Chile released 500 times more energy than the earthquake that struck in Haiti. Of course, that smaller earthquake struck right adjacent to a very vulnerable – extremely vulnerable population. And of course, we see that in the difference in the impact between these two events that the – in terms of the life – lives lost, hundreds of thousands in case of Haiti, only several hundred lost in the case of Chile. So that gets to this issue that it’s not just the shaking that matters, it’s also then what is the impact on the people at risk.
And in the case of Chile, we saw the results from a strong cultural preparedness, strong building codes, strong awareness that we saw a much smaller number of fatalities than we saw in Haiti. And basically in Chile, you were 400 times less likely to die in that earthquake if you were exposed to severe shaking compared to Haiti.
So we want to get a quick look at not just the shaking intensity, but also who was put in harm’s way. And so that’s the purpose of this next tool that I’m showing here. It’s called the PAGER system, or the Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response, and it overlays the shaking intensity on populations. This is a global database of population that was originally developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. And what’s shown here then is for each level of intensity the size of the population that was exposed. So within 20 minutes after that Haiti earthquake, we were able to communicate that 2 million people had just been exposed to severe shaking in a place where we know that there are not strong building codes.
So it didn’t – you didn’t have to wait for the press reports to slowly come out. You often – after an earthquake, communications will be down. You’ll be getting very limited reports. The idea here is to help response organizations, to help humanitarian groups to be able to mobilize before waiting for the press reports that may take several days to come out of some of the hardest hit areas.
And this is just to give you a sense of some of the folks who receive these PAGER alerts. They’re posted up on our website as well, but they’re also pushed out to groups like, as I mentioned, aid organizations, nongovernmental organizations, the press, as well then domestically here quite a range of different groups who are looking for situational awareness after an earthquake.
Now starting this past fall, we started to issue a new version of PAGER that not only looks at the number of people who have been exposed to different levels of shaking, but now as an additional layer of information. And I’m showing you an output from the Chilean earthquake as an example. So we created an earthquake impact scale. On the left, you can see estimated fatalities. On the right, you see estimated economic losses. So again, in the first 20 minutes to 40 minutes after an earthquake, we’re providing a quick look at order magnitude estimate, what were the likely fatalities, what are the likely economic losses. And then the scale gives a sense of is this something that can be handled on a local basis, on a regional basis, national basis, or is this likely to be an international humanitarian crisis.
In the case of this earthquake off of Chile, it was immediately identified as a red alert in terms of the economic impact, but an orange alert in terms of the fatalities, in this case a range of 100 to 1,000 specifically from the shaking. So this is – in the summary is the – basically the higher of those two. It also makes an estimate of what the impact is relative to GDP. And then, finally, I want to emphasize that PAGER is about estimating what is the impact from the shaking. It is a separate issue of the tsunami impact. So we do the earthquake side of things, and then our colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration handle tsunami warnings. So this is, again, focused on the earthquake, on the earthquake shaking.
And then this is just a comparison of three different PAGER outputs from last year with three very – all three of them were red alerts, but had very different outcomes. In the case of the – the far left one is the 7 in Haiti, the middle one was the magnitude 7 that struck in September in New Zealand, and finally then the Chilean earthquake. In one case – they’re all red alerts in terms of economic losses, but we see in the case of New Zealand, there were, in fact, no fatalities from that event, moderate fatalities from the Chilean event, and of course the just tremendous loss of life in Haiti. And that’s information that you want to have from a response standpoint as fast as possible.
In the case of the great Tohoku earthquake, the magnitude 9, we have the PAGER estimate in about 42 minutes, and you can see, again, tremendous economic loss is immediately apparent, but relatively low losses estimated in terms of the fatalities from the earthquake shaking. And although it’s going to be some time before we understand the full impact of that, the initial indication is that the number of fatalities from – earthquake fatalities is relatively low, and, of course, we had the terrible loss of life associated with the tsunami inundation.
And this is just to give you a sense of the – these alert levels. In a typical year, we could expect to have worldwide about one yellow alert a month, maybe one to two orange alerts, and one to two red alerts in any given year. And so as I said, we’ve, unfortunately, had a bumper crop this past year, so – and in the future, the goal is to take this technology further, to be able to look not just at fatalities but at other casualties, the numbers of displaced persons, of course, another – a major factor in terms of the response, to use this as a tool to look at the earthquakes that could happen in the future and develop scenarios from that and improve the visualization. This is showing a three-dimensional visualization in Google Earth, looking at the shaking intensity against the density of the population, again, finding ways to try to make that more easily visible. And then finally, improving – really creating a global database of the building fragility, because ultimately it does come down to buildings and their ability to withstand the earthquakes shaking that is thrown at them.
Now, our focus – so far, I’ve been talking about the technology for delivering rapid information after the event. As I said, Japan has the best seismic networks in the world, and they’ve developed from that the capability to actually get information out after the earthquake has started but before the strong shaking has arrived in populated areas. So the image that’s here – just to convey that, I think we’re looking to understand as much as possible, how the system performed in this event, how it was used, what people did, the actions that they took before the shaking had arrived. And that’s both in terms of – the image on the left is what appeared on people’s televisions about 30 seconds after the earthquake from the earthquake early warning system in Japan, and the image on the right is the warning that was issued about three minutes after the quake in terms of the tsunami.
We are not that far along here in the U.S. We are in the process of working with California universities – the California Institute of Technology, University of California Berkley, and others to develop an early warning prototype. But again, we’re – our focus is very much on learning what we can from the Japanese and from a number of other countries that have implemented earthquake early warning.
Now, one of the other areas that I wanted to touch on from an international standpoint is the work that we do jointly with the U.S. Agency for International Development, their Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. We’ve worked with OFDA for many, many years, particularly on the volcano front. We have a volcano disaster assistance program that has gone to threatening volcanoes around the world and – to be able to augment and strengthen local capacity for being able to deal with those events. And similarly, we’ve had a partnership with them on the earthquake front. And the goal here is to provide technical assistance and capacity building as much as possible.
We’ve had deployments to a number of different places. I wanted to focus specifically on what’s been done in Haiti. And as I said, if the importance – one of the keys here is building codes, is the ability of structures to withstand shaking. First off, you need to know what is the likely shaking that’s going to occur. And so one of the efforts here was to both employ a seismic network at the time of the earthquake – and last January there was a one seismometer in the entire country – so to deploy a sustainable seismic network, to develop the seismic hazard maps that anticipate future shaking so that as these tremendous – there was a tremendous global outpouring in terms of providing support for building future schools and hospitals and infrastructure – to make sure that that is done in such a way that it will be able to withstand the next earthquake, which is, of course, a near certainty in the coming decades.
And then seismic hazard assessment and also understanding things like all the secondary hazards, such as fault rupturing, land sliding, and then working specifically with the Haitian Bureau of Mines and Energy to develop capacity there to do training so that they will be able to then maintain this system.
And Haiti is a good example of why we need to do a better job of understanding where it is that earthquakes occur on a global basis. And this is just showing – this is the state-of-the-art. This was developed back in the 1990s, a Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Project, that was done through the auspices of the United Nations and many others, and this is showing the map for Haiti.
In order to make it a global effort, it was done in such a way that it really focused on recent seismicity, recent earthquakes; and as a result, it didn’t really reflect the historical earthquakes. And I think we’ve seen with Haiti, certainly we’ve seen with the recent Japan earthquake, that earthquakes that may have a very long recurrence interval – they may only come every few hundred years, or even in the case of Japan maybe a thousand years – we still have to find ways to build that into our assessment of what is the likelihood of future earthquakes.
So there is an effort underway called the Global Earthquake Model that’s being led by Italy and has a number of countries that are participating and a number of countries that are in a process of joining this effort. We’ve been collaborating at a scientific level to make sure that our understanding about earthquake hazards gets built into this model. So I think this is a very important effort that’s going forward.
So then the last piece that I wanted to focus on in my remarks here is just to talk a little bit about this issue of a seismic hazard assessment, of knowing what the hazard is. As I mentioned, we’re working with this Global Earthquake Model to take our understanding of seismic hazards and try to make that into something that all countries can adopt.
This is a map showing our national seismic hazard. These are – this is the earthquake threat that we face. This is a map that shows the expected shaking intensity over the next 50-year period. And then you can see just a few of the earthquakes we’ve had in the past decades that are essentially filling in this map. And it really underscores that earthquakes are, for the case of the U.S., that earthquakes are a national hazard. They’re not just a west coast thing. They’re something that many different parts of our country face.
And in particular, you see that hot spot in the center of the country. We’re coming up on the bicentennial of a sequence of earthquakes that struck in the winter of 1811-1812, a series of magnitude 7 earthquakes at a time when there were maybe 400 people living in the area. Of course, now it’s an area where we have cities like Memphis and several million people living there.
These maps then are translated into design provisions and ultimately into model building codes. And so, again, the importance of having an understanding of the – a long-term understanding of where earthquakes occur, since earthquakes have absolutely defied the ability to predict them in the short term, to have a better handle on where they are likely to happen and how we can then build buildings to withstand that.
Then the last piece that I’ll mention is the preparedness piece, and this is absolutely crucial in terms of improving the resilience to earthquakes. We’ve worked with many different partners to try to do this here in this country. I’m showing here an earthquake preparedness handbook that was originally developed in southern California and has since then been exported – California to northern California, to the inter-mountain west, to Utah, and now most recently a version has been developed for the central U.S. As we get ready, we’re really trying to use this bicentennial of the New Madrid earthquakes as a teachable moment for earthquake hazards; you don’t have to wait for the big earthquake to occur. And I think that’s true across the board, is trying to find these ways of using the teachable moment, for example, of a recent event to build that preparedness ahead of time.
So these handbooks are one important tool. The other one is exercises, and I’ll just close with this. This is another export from California. In fact, even that is taken from Japan. Japan has a National Earthquake Day. We tried this out in southern California a couple of years ago. It’s called the Great Southern California Shakeout. That then has been expanded into an annual exercise for the entire state of California. This past October we had over 8 million people participating with a big emphasis being on schoolchildren.
Well, this is now being taken on the road and it’s being applied in the central U.S. We’re going to have the Great Central U.S. Shakeout on April 28th. And before the Japan earthquake – speaking of this issue of teachable moments – we had 930,000 people signed up. That number is now up to 2.4 million as we approach the event itself. And given that this is an area where earthquakes are not such a frequent occurrence, we’re really pleased to see this. And it’s something that we very much want to see applied much more broadly. I know that New Zealand has already done a shakeout. They’ve taken the efforts in California and applied that. British Columbia is doing that. I think it’s a real opportunity for many different countries and places that are at risk from earthquakes.
And so with that, I will close.
MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you very much, Dr. Applegate. I’m going to take your questions. I would just say I encourage you to go to the website and sign up for the PAGER service. Not only is it an amazing resource for journalists, but as you may have noticed on the slides, it is actually what the State Department’s Operations Center uses to send out alerts and get the entire U.S. Government mobilized to support disaster assistance. So we’ll go ahead and take your questions. Please, again, give me your name and your media outlet right up front.
QUESTION: Hi. Nico Pandi from Jiji Press. Thank you, Doctor, for coming in and speaking with us today. I was hoping you could go back and expand a little bit about some of the comments you made regarding the cooperation that your agency has had with Japan in setting up an early warning system here in America. Could you kind of go into a little bit more detail about what that cooperation has looked like, who’s been talking to who, and maybe when you predict we might move from the prototype model that we have now in America to a more fully operational model similar to what they have in Japan? Thank you.
MR. APPLEGATE: Sure thing. Well, we’ve been – our scientists and particularly our university partners as well in California have been working with scientists at the Japan Meteorological Agency and really a number of different entities there. Again, our focus is to learn what we can from the Japanese system. There also are systems that have been deployed. For example, in Turkey, they’ve been developing a system specifically for Istanbul, I think in Romania for Bucharest. In Mexico, they have a system for Mexico City. So there are a number of countries, but certainly, the Japanese system is the most advanced.
Our own efforts in this country are – one of our challenges is the issue of density of instrumentation. So we are working as a research effort to be able to develop this prototype effort. But in terms of being able to issue large-scale early warning, get to the point where the Japanese are, that will require significant additional investment in instrumentation. We were able to make some of that investment through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The recovery act funding was – we used that to replace a lot of our sort of aging seismic infrastructure.
And one point I want to make about early warning is it – really, it’s not a prediction. It’s – the earthquake’s already happened, but you’re trying to outrun the seismic waves with your system, the data getting there. So we very much see it as an extension of what we’re already trying to do, which is to make our system as robust as possible, get the information out as fast as possible, so that some people under some circumstances will actually get that information before the shaking arrives, but that everybody will get information as fast as possible to speed the response.
QUESTION: Thank you, Dr. Applegate. Charlene Porter from the State Department’s International Information Service. The prediction thing, you went over it quickly, saying it’s hard. Tell us why it’s hard, why it’s so elusive to science, and are there any glimmers of light in one direction of scientific pursuit or another?
MR. APPLEGATE: Sure. Well, it’s a great question, and absolutely. Short-term earthquake prediction has been and remains a sort of Holy Grail for earthquake science to get to that point. And there have been many glimmers of hope in the past. There has continued to be many areas of active research as people look at new technologies; for example, looking at the data from satellites, seeing if there is something there. But so far, earthquakes have been stubbornly unpredictable.
And of course, what we’re specifically talking about is we want to be able to predict large earthquakes. And it’s even quite possible that the earthquakes themselves don’t know how large they’re going to get until they’ve started. It’s really not predicting where the earthquake starts. What you’re trying to do is predict where it stops. Is this going to be a small rupture of a couple kilometers that’s going to generate a magnitude 5 earthquake, or are you talking about something that’s going to rupture for hundreds of kilometers and generate a damaging magnitude 7 or magnitude 8?
So in the absence of the ability to do short-term earthquake prediction, what we’ve focused on is providing the fastest possible information after an earthquake to improve the response, but particularly looking at these longer-term predictability of the system, understanding where earthquakes occur, and certainly to try to push that time frame down as we learn more about the recurrence of earthquakes, how earthquakes interact. Of course, aftershocks are the best example of earthquake interaction. You get many, many, many earthquakes following a main shock. Take all of that understanding and try to develop more of a sort of an operational forecasting capability.
So that’s where we’re at. I think it will continue to be an area of very active research. It’s something that many people hope for. And part of our challenge as the agency that’s responsible for sort of passing judgment on earthquake predictions is to make sure that when these ideas are put forward, that they’re rigorously tested and properly explored.
QUESTION: Can I have one follow-up? Aftershocks in Japan this time, they’ve been just very, very severe. Can you enlighten us at all in terms of what are you learning from that?
MR. APPLEGATE: Well, the aftershock sequence, I think, has been one of the tremendous challenges in this event, and part of what it underscores is simply just how big an earthquake this was. As I said, you’re almost hiding a magnitude 7.9 aftershock in the tail of that magnitude 9, the amount of energy that was released in that.
The vast majority of the aftershocks that we’re seeing in this sequence that is typical – it’s a typical sequence for an earthquake of this size – the vast majority of them are in the same patch offshore that ruptured in the initial event. But I think one – what’s been striking has been the number of large aftershocks that have occurred elsewhere throughout Japan. Of course, there was a magnitude 6 event very close to Mount Fuji. There was one off the west coast of Japan. And it’s really underscored that even as the Japanese people were trying to respond to it and start the recovery process, that there is – the potential remains for another damaging earthquake anywhere in the country.
QUESTION: Hi. Nadia Tsao with the Liberty Times on Taiwan. We see in the past years that the earth seems to be more active – depends on the frequency of the big earthquakes. I’m just wondering, can you give us some information – well, does that mean that the earth become more active? Will we see more big earthquakes coming? Because Taiwan is also one of the highly risk area. And what would you suggest to those country or people who live in those highly risk area? Thanks.
MR. APPLEGATE: Well, after the – we had quite a string of magnitude 7 earthquakes in the first part of last year, to the point at which, around April, we actually put out a statement from the U.S. Geological Survey that this is, in fact, well within statistical norms. I think the year 1943 was the big winner for magnitude 7 earthquakes. There were something like – this was well over 30 of them, and in a typical year you have 17.
So the short answer is that we are not seeing increased overall – increased in activity. What we have seen, however, is several very significant earthquakes striking very close to vulnerable areas. For example, you look at the – not just the Haiti example, but the magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand. I mean, there are dozens of magnitude 6 earthquakes every year, but that one struck right adjacent to an area that, although it has very good modern building codes, also has a lot of older structures, a lot of brick buildings and so forth, that were vulnerable.
So in terms of sort of looking to the future, what do we take away from these recent events, it is that while we can’t control the earthquakes, what we can do is make the investments in good, well-enforced building codes, make the effort with preparedness, and finally, try to develop robust systems for notification and warning. And you’re absolutely right, Taiwan is a very seismically active country and one in which significant earthquake networks developed in the 1990s and where, I think, again, very strong modern building codes. And all of those things are important to long-term resilience.
QUESTION: Hi. Doctor, thank you for doing this. I’m – my name is Tsung Hu from Central News Agency, also from Taiwan. And I guess my question is that right after the disaster, did – one challenge – one of the challenges that the rescuer may face is that where to send more people and where to send more resources. Is that possible that one day the PAGER system could be used to predict which areas should be put on the priority list?
MR. APPLEGATE: That’s a very interesting question. Well, that is – and again, that really speaks to this challenge that you can have structures that are damaged in the main shock and in these aftershock sequences can actually be brought down. That’s one of the huge challenges for search and rescue is to be able to – for example, after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck the U.S., they were trying to deal with a collapsed freeway and they had to keep pulling the search and rescue teams off because of the ongoing shaking. That’s one area where I think there is the potential benefit for a localized early warning system to be able to even just use the initial weak shaking to be able to get folks off of a rubble pile or into a safe setting.
In terms of the PAGER system, I think that’s a – that is an interesting possibility for the future. It definitely – still it would suffer from the problem that I mentioned before about you’re never able to sort of get ahead of the earthquake. With the aftershocks, we can do a very good job of estimating the estimated frequency of them. One of the things that’s so challenging is that the frequency decays with aftershocks, but the range of magnitudes doesn’t. So, in fact, you think of the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that struck Sumatra in December of 2004. In March of 2005 there was a magnitude 8.6 earthquake to the south, effectively an aftershock of that earlier event. So you can still, even months later, be dealing with these large aftershocks.
QUESTION: Yes, Bill Jones from EIR News. I’d just like to mention there was a major conference after the Japanese earthquake in Vienna where they brought together all the major experts from all over the world, and they were much more optimistic about this issue of earthquake precursors. You can look – you have both the seismic sighting of the area itself, but there’s also disturbances in the ionosphere which are accompanying earthquakes, and a lot of things that happen prior to the earthquake actually breaking out.
And the general tenor of the comments were that our problem is not that we don’t have the technologies, but we cannot coordinate the various items that we can see prior to the earthquake happening so that we can make a judgment call based on all the information we have.
And it seems to me that they – people seem to be more optimistic about the possibility of being able to predict earthquakes because of the capabilities we have. There was a – in fact, a satellite which has been taken out of the budget, unfortunately, DESDynI satellite, which was specifically designed by NASA for earthquake detection. But it seems to me that we’re on the verge of being able to do something like that, and if you have any comment, I appreciate it.
MR. APPLEGATE: And as I mentioned, this is an area of active research, ongoing research, folks trying to look at new technologies, new ways of looking at that. The biggest problem has been one of reproducibility. In other words, there have been times at which people have seen interesting phenomena for specific earthquakes. The challenge is finding situations where those phenomena are not seen at other times. In other words, they’re only seen before a significant earthquake and situations where they may only sometimes be seen before a significant earthquake. I mean, that’s been an issue in the past in terms of, for example, foreshocks. There’s – occasionally, there will be foreshocks before a large earthquake. In many other cases, there won’t be.
The USGS and the California Geological Survey had taken a piece of the San Andreas Fault that had typically had a recurrence interval of about every 20 years it had a magnitude 6 earthquake, and they put every kind of sensor imaginable across this fault to catch it in the act. This was back in the 1980s. And in 2004, when the earthquake finally occurred, not quite right on time – just about 20 years late – what was really extraordinary was to look at all of those different signals, and the earthquake just happened.
So it is, again, it’s – I think there are folks who are optimistic about it, but it is not yet – it’s still very much at a research level. And again, reproducibility is the big challenge to get to the point at which this could be used in any kind of an operational manner.
MODERATOR: Okay. Excellent. And if you all don’t have any additional questions, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate Dr. Applegate’s attention here at the Foreign Press Center.
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