PSN-L Email List Message
Subject: Quake scientist's conference
From: "Erich Kern" efkern@.............
Date: Wed, 14 Apr 2004 13:06:41 -0700
The Desert Sun / Palm Springs, California
Forecast the buzz as quake scientists gather
By Benjamin Spillman
The Desert Sun
April 14th, 2004
It's tough to fault seismologists for earthquakes that rocked the Los
Angeles basin in 1994 and the Bay Area in 1989.
But the group of researchers who in both years held conferences near
those memorable temblors are now in Palm Springs -- and some are predicting a major quake
along the desert's slice of the San Andreas.
The expectation that the southern portion of the famous fault is likely
to rupture is based on more than a scheduling quirk or the fact that this is Earthquake
But the annual conference of the Seismological Society of America comes
at a time when earthquake prediction is a hot topic in the field.
The conference, described by an organizer as an event "for the real
purists" of seismology, includes a highly anticipated forum with one forecaster who is
predicting a 6.4 magnitude or greater quake in the desert by Sept. 5.
Another researcher will present data he says indicates the San Andreas
fault is set to enter a period of especially frequent and more intense shaking.
"It seems perfect," said University of Oregon professor Ray Weldon of
the conference location. "That is going to be about the center of the rupture if we are
Weldon will speak today at the event about data he and student
researchers have spent 18 years gathering from the San Andreas fault near Wrightwood.
They say data from the site shows the fault has had varying levels of
stress in the past 1,500 years. Today, the fault shows high levels of stress, suggesting a
period of strain release, via earthquakes, is near, he said.
The research generally applies along the fault from about Palmdale to
the Salton Sea.
Although Weldon doesn't offer a quake prediction per se, he said the
work complements a prediction by Russian scientist Vladimir Keilis-Borok, the UCLA
researcher forecasting the 6.4 magnitude or greater quake in the desert.
"You could consider that support," Weldon said. "But I don't lend any
insight or support to a window of time."
The Keilis-Borok earthquake prediction window has been a major topic of
conversation among seismologists this year.
Keilis-Borok and his team used a mathematical formula based on past
seismic activity to predict a temblor somewhere in an approximately 12,000 square-mile
swath of desert that includes the Coachella Valley.
"Even two years back it was practically a dirty word to say earthquake
prediction," said Nancy Sauer, a conference organizer.
The buzz around predictions this year is reminiscent of earlier
enthusiasm for earthquake forecasting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said John
McRaney, associate director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.
But for the most part those efforts fizzled, McRaney said.
"It was so unsuccessful . people sort of shied away for about 20 years,"
Rich Eisner, manager of earthquake programs for the California Office of
Emergency Services, recalls trekking to the tiny California town of Parkfield around 1988
in response to a high-profile earthquake prediction.
Parkfield, population 37, was then known for its proximity to the site
of the car accident that killed actor James Dean, Eisner said.
However, when researchers predicted a major temblor would occur in the
area within a three-day window, scientists and media flocked to the area, he said.
"It became an opportunity to catch the earthquake," Eisner said. "Most
of the time earthquakes occur and the instruments are in the wrong location."
The quake never materialized, but Parkfield emerged with the
self-proclaimed title "earthquake capital of the world" and the Office of Emergency
Services still has an earthquake response plan it formed around the time of the old
"From our standpoint, it was a productive and successful exercise,"
Now, with Keilis-Borok scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon, the
one-time dirty word could be the highlight of the society's conference, an event they've
held almost every year since 1907.
"There is something going on," Sauer said. "People are at least willing
to entertain the idea. It is not seen so much as junk science."
Keilis-Borok isn't talking about his work right now because he wants it
to appear in a journal that discourages researchers from speaking to the press before
publication of a scientific article.
The conference, which was scheduled more than a year before the desert
quake prediction, represents a confluence of an opportunity to listen directly to
Keilis-Borok at a location well within his prediction zone.
"Everyone is talking about it," said Lisa Grant, a University of
California, Irvine geologist who will attend the conference. "Earthquake prediction is the
holy grail of earthquake science."
Benjamin Spillman can be reached at 778-4643
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Copyright © 2004 The Desert Sun.
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