Earthquake Prediction Riddle Solved

This entry was posted by Wednesday, 8 April, 2009
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EARTHQUAKE in central Italy.

The quake in Italy killed over 200. More than a thousand injured. There was a lot of economic disruption and property damage. You can understand the terror if you’ve lived through such a thing; otherwise, you simply can not. Terrible suffering and misery. And, reportedly, the Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, in a Bush-esque moment, suggested that the thousands of survivors of the quake would do well to conduct themselves as though on a “camping weekend”. This is more heartless than he intended, I think.

A local scientist claims that he predicted the quake and was then muzzled by authorities. At any moment, of course, many people are predicting many things. Sometimes this is because they’re smart. More often it is because they’re drunk. So there’s always SOMEONE to say “told ya!” after an unexpected event.

That local scientist was probably both serious and sober but this does remind us of a previous discussion in Science Ain’t So Bad about what science is and how its propositions get validated. Since, however, the focus here is on earthquakes, I’ll shake that thought off and continue the original discussion of earthquakes.

The basic science of earthquakes (link) has advanced in this century but the excitation (the quake itself) IS a bit on the unpredictable side. In fact, there is no reliable way (except, arguably, that local scientist’s technique) to know. Could be big. Could be small. Could be next year.

But if you DO want to predict a quake, you need to look at the system, both the quake, itself, and the objects shaken such as buildings and bridges. Since we can’t nail the quake, we need to concentrate on the things that get shook. THIS we know something about. Numerous construction methods have been tested recently on giant shaker tables and some have shown considerable promise. A group at the University of Nevada just simulated a truly huge quake (twice as strong as a magnitude 7.6), against a full scale house constructed of straw bales and, thus, practical for many parts of the world that can’t afford expensive solutions. The straw bale house (details) did great. No report on the dishes.

By the way, I did write, a while back, about my team’s Sonic Beacon (patent pending) which is designed to rescue people from the rubble of collapsed structures. That post, should you be curious, is called The Work Goes On .


In an earlier post, Risky Chimp Behavior, I discussed a recent attack by a seemingly very domesticated chimpanzee. This attack was one of several that highlights the ungodly power that chimps appear to have. What is the source of this phenomenal strength? Details.


Gene therapy is starting to make a difference. This is real: [Skipping The Surgery]


In a comment , Alan Wild wonders about orbiting solar collectors.

Peter Glaser (MIT) promoted this idea in the sixties. He even owns a patent on this technology. It’s a legitimate idea but Glaser was probably “before his time”. To work, ultra efficient solar panels would be required (to reduce the area and, thus, the number of missions to deploy the thing) and lots more needs to be understood about the practical effects of microwave transmission of an intense energy beam through the atmosphere. I believe that some simple lab experiments have demonstrated “proof of concept”. Who or what would get fried by the beam? We don’t know.

New Science Ain’t So Bad products: Click to View

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