In 2012, six Italian scientists and a civil servant were sentenced to six years in prison for failing to predict the earthquake that devastated the L’Aquila area three years earlier. He was eventually acquitted, but the charge was unusual, it led to the resignation of the accusers from the commission that assesses major risks in the country and great concern among seismologists because, as they reiterate every time, a similar Disaster happens, it is impossible to predict when it will happen. A big earthquake. Neither in Italy, the magnitude 6.3 that killed nearly 300 people, nor two of the 7.8 and 7.5 that shook Turkey and Syria on Monday, causing more than 5,000 deaths at the moment. ,
“We know that large earthquakes are associated, in 90% of cases, with well-known large faults and plate boundaries, however this does not mean that large earthquakes cannot occur from these large structures. Nature always surprises us,” Andalusian Institute of Geophysics and Professor of Earth Physics at the University of Granada, José Morales told this newspaper.
especially, Eastern and Northern Anatolian Faultswhich have caused disaster in Turkey and Syria, perhaps «most dangerous in the world, even more than the famous San Andreas Fault (California)«. Over the past hundred years, it has produced several dozen earthquakes of magnitude greater than 7.
However, predicting when that fault or another will rupture and release a major earthquake is unfortunately impossible today. “The Earth is a dynamic environment and the processes taking place in it are complex. Each region has its own characteristics and many variables are involved”, explains Morales. “There’s no instrument that tells us that day and time“, he insists.
Seismologists have GPS networks capable of measuring Earth’s deformations caused by plate tectonics, even at millimeter resolution. Over time, it is possible to know how these deformations accumulate and if a fault is ‘mature’, close to breaking and releasing an earthquake, but this process happens very slowly, taking hundreds or even thousands of years. Can walk
In some places, such as Turkey, distortion is too fastseveral centimeters per year, but we are unable to say when the rupture will happen”, says the researcher. “It is not easy to get accurate results, it is not like meteorology, there are satellites that can monitor the atmosphere in real time. And there are very sophisticated models that make predictions three to five days out”, he admits.
The scientist believes that the development of the research will facilitate obtaining more accurate models and more sensitive instruments to detect the deformation of the Earth before an earthquake. But will we ever be able to predict them? «I would not dare to say that it is not possible in the future… Maybe not to hit the date and time, but in a relatively short period of time. Of course, I don’t think we’ll see it,” Morales predicts.
What can be done with the knowledge we have is to make decisions about areas where we know large earthquakes are going to occur, such as setting up warning and information networks to be able to evacuate the population and minimize casualties. and guaranteeing that the constructions are complete shockproof.