How do scientists predict earthquakes?
Scientists cannot predict earthquakes - otherwise we would not have
so many where hundreds or thousands of people get killed, like
the recent one in Japan. After an earthquake has happened there are
various things geologists look for in the "fault" associated with
the earthquake to give some idea of how long it will be till the
next one. The "fault" is the part of the earth's crust where two
sections are sliding against one another in some fashion. To make
real predictions would require knowing the location of all these
faults (some kind of map), knowing at what stage each of them
is (how much tension there is and what kind of things are preventing
the fault from slipping) and how they interact with one another.
Even for very carefully studied regions like southern California,
we have only a very small fraction of the information that would
be needed for true prediction.
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Update: June 2012