Debra Reardon, of Kaikoura Primary School, asks :-

Can earthquakes be predicted?

Terry Webb, a seismologist with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, responded.

The short answer is no. No one at present is able to reliably predict earthquakes, although there have been a few successes. One of the most notable success was in the prediction of the 1975 Liaoning earthquake in China by Chinese seismologists. However, in the following year they failed to predict the Tang Shan earthquake which killed many thousands of people.

There is still a large effort by scientists in China, Japan, the U.S.A., and other countries towards predicting earthquakes. In those countries they are monitoring such things as small earthquakes, small movements of the earth, radio waves, gases emitted by rocks, and even animal behaviour. None of these measurements at present give a reliable indication that an earthquake is about to happen.

In New Zealand we devote very little time to earthquake prediction research. Our research is focussed on understanding the structures within the earth (such as faults) and the way in which the surface of the earth is deforming due to the forces acting on it. What we learn is then used to improve our estimates of the likely risks from earthquakes, and to improve our ability to cope with a large earthquake when it does occur.