Earthquake Prediction: Could We Ever Forecast the Next Big One?

[Video Link]

I traveled to Japan recently with PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien, and helped shoot and produce a series of stories related to the March 11 disasters: earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. The first of those stories from Miles aired last night: on "the elusive science of earthquake prediction -- whether seismologists will ever be able to predict an earthquake with any certainty -- and how far they've come in Japan come toward making that a reality."

Read the story transcript here.

Statue outside civil defense and emergency preparedness center, Tokyo, August 2011

Coincidentally, this piece aired on the same day hundreds of cities on the U.S. West Coast took part in the 2011 Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill —and the same day as first one, then another moderate but jarring quake hit the San Francisco Bay Area. Twitter was all aflutter.


The "war room" at the Japan Meteorological Agency. This is ground zero for Japan's national earthquake early warning system.

While in Tokyo, Miles talked to NewsHour host Hari Sreenivasan about a little-known, but comparable precedent to the March tsunami, how Japanese are uniquely approaching the effort to rebuild tsunami-devastated areas, and their changing approach to nuclear energy in the wake of the disaster.

[Video Link]

photo.JPG Children in earthquake simulation center drill, Tokyo, August 2011

(Photos in this post: iPhone snapshots, Xeni Jardin.)


  1. “Moon Walk Model: … Kermadec Islands (7+)” was correct.

    This quake makes 3 correct AGW earthquake predictions out of 23 in the following blogs with the standard 2-week model and shows the “T” in the T-Party (t-GOP) stands again for exporting a tsunami.

    “A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck 180 kilometers (112 miles) east of Raoul Island in the Kermadec Islands  … sea level readings indicated a tsunami was generated, which may have been destructive along the coasts near the earthquake epicenter … the quake was felt along the east coast of New Zealand” (“Earthquake strikes near Raoul Island in the Kermadec Islands”;, 10/21/11).

    The predictions are found in:

  2. Hey, they timed that “Great California Shakeout” thingy pretty well, right?  And that has been planned for months.  It’s a conspiracy, man…

    My own thought, as well as that of a geophysicist that I know, is that even if there was some sort of reliable magic precursor signal produced from the point miles below ground shortly before an earthquake starts, that would be absolutely useless unless you could also tell how big the quake was going to be.  Hundreds of tiny quakes happen every day in California, and since a big quake is really just a “cascade” effect of many smaller quakes triggering each other and joining together, a precursor for a big quake probably wouldn’t look any different than that for a small one.  

    Let’s just build stronger buildings.  Not like those death-trap townhouses in the San Francisco Sunset district that will just sink into the soil through liquefaction…

  3. I hope you got footage of an entire 3 mile long bay on fire from an oil spill caused by the tsunami. I saw an NHK documentary on it. It was amazing.

    There’s a tiny piece bit of coverage here

    but there was a lot more on the NHK program.

    Literally the ENTIRE BAY for 3 miles was on fire!

  4. This is an interesting story…but the elephant protecting child pic seems (while cool) out of place…

    Those lil shakes were like licking an ice cream cone then throwing the rest in the trash: I don’t like the effects per se of a big ol’ nasty one, but damn it I don’t like to be teased either.

    1. but the elephant protecting child pic seems (while cool) out of place…

      As the caption on Flickr explains (our blog platform makes it tough to add captions handily in-line):

      This is a statue outside of a civil defense and citizen earthquake preparedness training center in Tokyo, Japan. The statue symbolizes protection and preparedness for natural disasters, the most common and historically destructive of which for Japan is earthquakes. The image is not out of place in this blog post.

  5. Actually, there were 4 quakes on the Great Shakeout Day (Thursday), and 3 more yesterday. Mostly small, but nevertheless unnerving…

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