Researchers find mathematical patterns to forecast earthquakes

These are seismogenic areas of Spain and Portugal. The study focused on the areas 26 and 27. Credit: Martínez-Álvarez et al.

Via Eurekalert: Researchers from the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO) and the Universidad de Sevilla (US) have found patterns of behaviour that occur before an earthquake on the Iberian peninsula. The team used clustering techniques to forecast medium-large seismic movements when certain circumstances coincide.

“Using mathematical techniques, we have found patterns when medium-large earthquakes happen, that is, earthquakes greater than 4.4 on the Richter scale,” Francisco Martínez Álvarez, co-author of the study and a senior lecturer at the UPO revealed to SINC.

The research, which will be published this month by the journal Expert Systems with Applications, is based on the data compiled by the Instituto Geográfico Nacional on 4,017 earthquakes between 3 and 7 on the Richter scale that occurred on the Iberian Peninsula and in the surrounding waters between 1978 and 2007.

The scientists applied clustering techniques to the data, which allowed them to find similarities between them and discover patterns that will help to forecast earthquakes.

The team concentrated on the two seismogenic regions with the most data (The Alboran Sea and the Western Azores-Gibraltar fault region) analysing three attributes: the magnitude of the seismic movement, the time elapsed since the last earthquake and the change in a parameter called the b-value from one earthquake and the other. The b-value reflects the tectonics of the region under analysis.

A high b-value means earthquakes are predominantly small in size and, therefore, the land has a low level of resistance. In contrast, a low value indicates that there are a relatively similar number of large and small seismic movements, which implies the land is more resistant.

Successful Forecast Probability Greater than 80%

“We have discovered the strong relationship between earthquakes and the parameter b-value, recording accuracy rates of more than 80%,” Antonio Morales Esteban, another of the co-authors of the study and a senior lecturer at the US highlighted. “After the calculations had been performed, providing the circumstances and sequences we have determined to be forerunners occur, we obtain a significant success probability”.

The technique summarises the forecasts in two factors: sensitivity (probability of an earthquake occurring after the patterns detected occur) and specificity (probability of an earthquake not occurring when no patterns have occurred).

The results reflect a sensitivity of 90% and specificity of 82.56% for the Alboran Sea region and 79.31% and 90.38% respectively for the seismogenic region of the Western Azores-Gibraltar Fault.

That is, there is a high probability of an earthquake in these regions immediately after the patterns discovered occur (high sensitivity) and, moreover, on most of such occasions, they only occur after the patterns discovered (high specificity).

At present the team is analysing the same data using their own algorithms based on “association rules”, other mathematical techniques used to discover common events or those which fulfil specific conditions within a set of events.

“The results are promising, although I doubt we will ever be able to say that we are capable of forecasting an earthquake 100% accurately,” Martínez Álvarez conceded.

###

References:

A. Morales-Esteban, F. Martínez-Álvarez , A. Troncoso , J.L. Justo y C. Rubio-Escudero. “Pattern recognition to forecast seismic time series”. Expert Systems with Applications 37 (12): 8333�, diciembre de 2010. Doi: 10.1016/j.eswa.2010.05.050.

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27 thoughts on “Researchers find mathematical patterns to forecast earthquakes

  1. Stanford researchers (Fraser-Smith et al. (1990)) recorded anomalous ultra-low frequency (ULF) magnetic field fluctuations prior to the 10/17/89 Loma Prieta Ms=7.1 earthquake in central California.
    http://ee.stanford.edu/~acfs/fraser-smith-publications.html
    This has generated a lot of scientific interest over the years but in spite of various claims of ‘earthquake precursors’ I don’t think the science has been ‘settled’ on this issue of earthquake prediction using electromagnetic precursors.
    Read more here:
    http://www-star.stanford.edu/~vlf/publications/396.pdf
    http://pangea.stanford.edu/research/groups/crustal/docs/CulpKlemperer.LomaPrieta.AGUtalk.2007.pdf

  2. Are these mathematical patterns traceable to lunar cycles?
    In response to Ray’s comment: The mathematical tools are already available to predict climate. They are called planetary mechanics. Prepare! The Landscheidt Grand Solar Minimum has already begun and will bottom out in 2030.

  3. Very interesting for us here in Portugal. Lisbon, the capital, had one of the worst earthquakes in modern history, in 1755. Didn’t get, though, the amount of time before a quake can be forecast…
    Ecotretas

  4. Well again we have another model; aka statistics, which says nothing about cause and effect. We’re going to have an earthquake, because we have a bunch of them here; whoop d do.
    Well Jim Berquist has been forecasting earthquakes (but not where) for years; all based on sun-moon tidal conditions; and orbital variables; and his batting average is very high as to predicting times wehn large quakes will occur; but he can’t say where unless he is able to egt auxiliary data, usually about animal behaviors.

  5. OK so they have used a mathematical algorithm to formulate a hypothesis. Now let’s see them test it.

  6. I don’t want to take away from their achievement but I am sceptical of the worthiness of their findings.
    Hindcasting, fitting to a mathematical construction that meets that hindsight is not unexpected. With funding, the finding becomes a certainty.
    Forecasting significant events is another matter.
    Good luck folks. I just hope that your research doesn’t take too much away from the funding of the Climacterphrenologists) (sp? /sarc)

  7. If a big earthquake struck Spain, that would solve their problem with the surplus houses they’ve built before the debt crisis.
    RoyFOMR says:
    December 2, 2010 at 3:30 pm
    “Forecasting significant events is another matter.”
    I second that. They have to demonstrate predictive skill. Did they train the classificator on half the data set and make a control run on the other half, did they try it out in real life with success? Without such a test, no predictive skills are proven.

  8. George E. Smith said: “… Jim Berquist has been forecasting earthquakes (but not where) for years….”
    Correct spelling of his name is Jim Berkland, a geologist from northern California. His website is http://www.syzygyjob.com.
    He makes monthly temporal earthquake predictions based on the cyclical changes in the alignment (syzygy) of gravitational forces from the sun and the moon on earth. The most obvious effect of these gravitaional changes can be seen in ocean tides. Differences between high and low tides can also result in changes crustal loading in coastal areas (like San Francisco Bay). While the magnitude of the changes may be small, it makes sense that earthquakes can be triggered on fault systems which are already near the breaking point and weight induced stresses provide the straw to break the camel’s back. I’ve been following his predictions for a number of years, and he is definitiely onto something, especially in terms of microseismicity. However, I don’t know how much credence is given to his theory in the establishment academic and government science circles. Some have attributed the 1975 Oroville, CA earthquake to weight induced stresses imposed by the filling of Lake Oroville (not to far from Chico, CA!) in the late 1960’s.
    Now that I think about it, didn’t the warmers cite increased earthquakes and volcanic activity as a hazard associated with AGW induced glacial melting and sea level rise?

  9. As noted, we observe that their “backcasting” using today’s (highly accurate) data correlates well with (recent) earthquakes.
    Now, the big questions:
    1. What/Who is tracking their series of indicators on an continuous basis for the next (many!) years? And what is their criteria for “forecasting” from that data? They surely will not “write a paper” and “sit on their laurels” while their country is threatened. Or will they?
    2. What will their governments do when faced with “only” a 80% chance of “being right” when an earthquake is predicted? Will their government actually react and use the data? Or will it worry about “calling wolf” too often and refuse to announce threats that may not happen? Will their government worry/be threatened with lawsuits when they announce a probable future earthquake – but the earthquake doesn’t happen and money is lost when people leave town, don’t work, waste resources? Will their government worry/be threatened when they announce an earthquake, but it is more severe than “announced” and lives are lost/money is lost because people DIDN’T get serious about the threat?

  10. George E. Smith says: “…Well Jim Berquist has been forecasting earthquakes (but not where) for years; all based on sun-moon tidal conditions; and orbital variables; and his batting average is very high as to predicting times wehn large quakes will occur; but he can’t say where unless he is able to egt auxiliary data, usually about animal behaviors.”
    Not much skill or usefulness, there. “There will be an earthquake…. Whoa! There it was, over there in Timbukthree! That was the one I predicted. For my next trick, I will predict that it will rain somewhere on Earth, and sure enough, it will.”
    As for animal behaviours, that’s a canard, never proven. China did some work in that area and found no significant correlation.

  11. DirkH says:
    December 2, 2010 at 3:59 pm
    If a big earthquake struck Spain, that would solve their problem with the surplus houses they’ve built before the debt crisis.

    Or perhaps a climate earthquake in Northern Europe…
    WeatherAction ESSENCE of WINTER Forecast 2010-11 for Britain, Ireland & Europe

    Winter Dec to Feb inclusive in Britain and Europe will be exceptionally cold and snowy – like hell frozen over at times – with much of England, Germany, Benelux and N France suffering one of the coldest winters for over 100 years.

    http://www.weatheraction.com/docs/WANews10No37.pdf

  12. As you may know, I live in Greece a country right on top of large faults, where we get earthquakes all over the place often over 4 in magnitude. There was a large quake close to Athens in February 1981, and for a month there were aftershocks and the town was like a tree being shaken.
    Every physicist became a seismologist at the time, and particularly a group of people from the university of Athens thought they had found piezoelectric signals that were precursors of the quakes ( they were a solid state group studying piezoelectricity in crystals). So we got an object lesson on whether quakes can be foreseen by their method, because unfortunately they had political influence, were financed and the media hung on their lips.
    Needless to say that their predictions were so vague, covering a third of Greece and three weeks time and magnitudes with +/- 2 Richter errors that finally they had to be isolated and not allowed to make predictions public. What good is it to predict 4+/-2 Richter other than starting a panic?
    I hope the Spanish people do not fall into the trap.

  13. Models again!, Try bull-fighting better!.
    During the recent February 27, 2010, Chilean earthquake, as reported by a TV station there, a school watchman and his wife were alerted of the coming earthquake 5 minutes before it happened, by an alarm installed connected to a gravity accelerator.
    Now, every Ipod or Ipad owner can download a gravity acceleration software which will warn you of a coming earthquake, as gravity changes before and during earthquake:
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/gravity-meter-pro/id360592895?mt=8

  14. “”””” jorgekafkazar says:
    December 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm
    George E. Smith says: “…Well Jim Berquist has been forecasting earthquakes (but not where) for years; all based on sun-moon tidal conditions; and orbital variables; and his batting average is very high as to predicting times wehn large quakes will occur; but he can’t say where unless he is able to egt auxiliary data, usually about animal behaviors.”
    Not much skill or usefulness, there. “There will be an earthquake…. Whoa! There it was, over there in Timbukthree! That was the one I predicted. For my next trick, I will predict that it will rain somewhere on Earth, and sure enough, it will.”
    As for animal behaviours, that’s a canard, never proven. China did some work in that area and found no significant correlation. “””””
    Well obviously you have no idea who Berquist is. He worked for years at the US Geological Survey on matters relating to earthquakes. They sort of ran him off, when he started making predictions of quakes; “too controversial.
    So as to the part of him not knowing for sure “where”, he has no problem with that criticism; and freely admits that. The point is that he understands the forces that result in earthquakes; and he has developed “algorithms that have time and again successfully predicted major quake probability windows. No that doesn’t help you to get out of your house before it collapses. He can predict major quakes in SOME LOCATIONS, those being high risk areas that have suitable strain instrumentation and other equipment to which he has data access; and of course that does not include all known faults around the world.
    As far as the animal behavior; it’s somewhat irrelevent what the Chinese have found; they aren’t Jim Berquist; and he has used such supplemental information from a number of high risk zones, that have enabled him to predict quakes in specific areas; and estimate the likely magnitude. And it is well documented that in the recent past Earthquake triggered Tsunami, that occurred off Indonesia, and devastated coastal areas of Ceylon, Bangladesh, and Thailand, that long before the tsunami came ashore, lots of animals, including domestic herds, and elephants, headed for the high ground; while their far more intelligent humans, on seeing an unexpectedly low and strangely timed low tide, rushed out on to the mudflats, just in time to be drowned under dozens of feet of incoming tidal bores.
    No-one can predict when a big truck is going to come crashing through your front room window; but lots of people who live in severe environmental regions; learn to watch the signs; and properly prepare for some things that are just a matter of time.
    Berquist keeps very busy advisng paying clients about risk windows that could adversely affect their property interests; and their pocket books.
    But then there are others who walk down railroad tracks, and get run down by a train while they yack on a cell phone; evidently they never envisaged that trains actually run on those tracks.

  15. Not joking: To us, Spanish speaking people, this story make us remember jokes about Spaniards; one in special tells than once, there, in a soccer game, it happened that they made waves at the stands….and many of them died by drowning !! 🙂

  16. I will come to the defense of this paper.
    Finding patterns in the data is a good first step towards finding the mechanism. The authors probably had the benefit of wavelet analysis and some good phase diagrams and, in any event, were able to distill some factor, “the b-factor” that had good predictive value. Next they will look at the variables that affect the b-factor, see if there are any relations between them, i.e. they cause something, and see if that causal relationship makes sense. If that doesn’t pan out, they’ll look at the variables that affect the variables that make up the b-factor and see if there is some relationship between them and so on. Also, they’ll try to examine when this factor doesn’t work. That is also a good way to poke at the mechanisms. Again, it’s a step in the right direction.
    Why did they just stop there? Well so many papers need to be published per year, grad students graduate, post docs get real jobs, etc. Life moves on. Also by publishing this correlating factor, they are able to succinctly communicate to other researchers and learn from them. This paper also will serve as a good reference for other papers they are writing now. Research is never ends (thank God).
    When it’s published, I’ll get a copy and try to find the motivation to chat about a few details.

  17. John Day, George Smith:
    Some 40 years ago, upon hearing about anxiety among animals prior to an earthquake, I suggested to colleagues that early stress could possibly result in quartz in sandstones or granites to respond with build up of a peizoelectric charge (early radio). Every rock has a texture with some degree of preferred orientation of grains and an electric current could result – possibly sparking. A house may behave like a receiver – the only way some advance warning of a quake is possible to animals is via an electromagnetic signal since this is the only thing quicker than the (say) 2-3k metres per sec sound transmission through rocks. Gee, I guess there will be no honourable mention of me at the Nobel Prize cerimony.

  18. “”””” Dinostratus says:
    December 3, 2010 at 8:04 pm
    I will come to the defense of this paper.
    Finding patterns in the data is a good first step towards finding the mechanism. “””””
    Well Dino, you’ll get no argument from me there. In the case of the current paper, patterns of earthquake locations would of course lead to discovery of previously unknown geologic zones that are active, which could indicate where to locate equipment to further research those areas. So I don’t ahve a fundamental problem with such studies.

  19. “”””” fhsiv says:
    December 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm
    Hey George E. Smith!
    His name is Berkland not Berquist. “””””
    The hell you say ! Well I do believe you are correct; well I’ll fess up and not try to blame it on my keyboard errors.
    I cannot remember the names of every scientist that ever was; but I usually can get close.
    Thanks for sorting that out for us, old Chap.

  20. “”””” Gary Pearse says:
    December 4, 2010 at 9:39 am
    John Day, George Smith:
    Some 40 years ago, upon hearing about anxiety among animals prior to an earthquake, I suggested to colleagues that early stress could possibly result in quartz in sandstones or granites to respond with build up of a peizoelectric charge (early radio). “””””
    Gary, I believe you. How easily we (those of us that are lay geologically) can dismiss a pile of rocks as just that; when they really are complex systems of crystals, and compounds having all sorts of physical properties.
    So I would certainly buy a Piezo or related strain effect that could produce radio waves. I’ve heard actual accoustic recordings of earthquakes reverberating aound inside the earth like thunder. The now unobtainable LP record, called “Out of This World” was recorded on mag tape running at 0.02 inches per second; and then played back at the then standard open reel speed of 7.5 inches per second to create the signal recorded on the LP.
    The flip side of that 12 inch LP carried atmospheric radio noises like, Whistlers, Howlers, Dawn Chorus, and the like, which generally relate to lightning strikes that happen somewhere on earth and create audio frequency radio signals that propagate along the earth magnetic field lines.
    I once worked at a DSIR Government lab in Wellingotn (lower (or upper) Hutt perhaps) NZ; and they were doing radio atmospheric research along with some satellite location in Norway or thereabouts; so we used to listen to Whistlers all the time.

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