“Deadly earthquakes could hit a BILLION people next year because of Earth's slowing rotation,” was the headline in The Daily Mail after reading Rebecca Bendick and Roger Bilham report.
Bendick and Bilham’s paper is the first of its kind to recognize a pattern with the potential to predict earthquakes. Their research got a lot of attention in October, when presented at a meeting of The Geological Society of America. This attention led to heavy media coverage.
A closer look at the report gives us a clearer picture of what we can expect from 2018.
Does the Report Accurately Predict Quakes for 2018?
Earthquakes are still devastatingly unpredictable. But, using certain data, Bendick and Bilham’s study describes interesting patterns in the seismic record.
They found evenly spaced intervals during past 117 years in which there are clusters of quakes at a magnitude 7.0 or greater. Roughly every three decades, these clusters appeared in the historical record at double the average rate. Rather than the average 8 to 10 quakes a year, the records show as many as 20.
The pair then found a 2012 research paper by Russian geophysicists Boris Levin and Elena Sasorova. That paper shows a correlation between infinitesimal slowing of the Earth’s rotation and an increase in seismic activity.
Bendick and Bilham noted that every three decades the Earth’s core shifts slightly, which changes its shape and rate of spin. Approximately five years after this event, the shift reaches the upper layer of the planet’s crust. When this happens, there is an increase in the number and size of earthquakes along major fault lines.
The pattern is simple. Five years after a change in the planet’s core, we can expect to see an increase in the number and magnitude of earthquakes.
The planet is now at the end of a slowing period, indicating that another cluster may be on its way.
What Does This Data Mean?
While the pattern is statistically significant, it’s not predictable enough to provide exact details.
Bendick and Bilham’s data that shows an increase in quakes is most likely to occur within a latitude of 30° north or south of the equator. This is the widest part of the planet. In this area, the Earth rotates roughly 1,000 mph faster than at the poles. Here, even the smallest change in spin has a greater effect.
The data examined by the geophysicists came from areas that are earthquake prone, such as Japan, New Zealand, and the West Coast of the United States.
While 2018 may not be as devastating as the media reports, the data remains clear: there will be an increase in earthquakes for 2018.
How Can We Prepare for More Earthquakes?
It’s easy to become complacent about preparedness. Between warnings of wildfires, landslides, and earthquakes, we often forget the importance of having a plan and a bag ready. But, as Hurricane Harvey and the recent fires in southern California have taught us, complacency can be deadly.
An increase in quakes causes federal resources to stretch thinner than usual. State and federal disaster relief programs cannot be relied upon in times of natural disaster. Instead, individuals must prepare themselves for worst-case scenarios.
Preparation takes some work, but there are a few basic starting points. Have an earthquake bag accessible, dry, and fully-stocked. Ensure that family has and knows the plan for where you will go and how you will get there.
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