Will Bizarre Quake Prediction Come True?

Categories: Science, internets
Our past ... and future?
A self-anointed earthquake predicter's bizarre claim that Los Angeles would be rattled by a 6.0 to 7.0 temblor today has nine-odd hours to come true. At the strike of midnight, Luke Thomas of QuakePredictions.com will either become an object of reverence or revulsion.

The Florida-based strange person triggered an Internet sensation, especially on Twitter, when he claimed there was a "98 percent chance" that the L.A. area would be hit with a major quake today. An actual trained seismologist with diplomas from a degree-granting institution stopped short of calling Thomas a charlatan. But she did remind SF Weekly that no one can predict earthquakes -- not even Chuck Norris.

When told a 7.0 quake had been foreseen for -- NOW! -- U.C. Santa Cruz professor of seismology Emily Brodsky laughed. "How lovely!"

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Thomas claims the "main method we use to make our earthquake forecasts is based on thermal temperature changes caused by kinetic frictional heating of the tectonic plates." He also utilizes "Moon phases; Animal behaviour (sic); Human behaviour (sic); Satellite earthquake clouds; Water temperature changes; and other arcane studies.

All of these, Brodsky says, have been considered by real scholars. "But none of them have shown to be robust. If we knew how to predict earthquakes, I'd be pretty excited. Unfortunately, it's not something we know how to do at this stage."

Some or all of Thomas' listed criteria sound scientific,and some may even play a role in earthquake generation -- but none impart the ability to, say, declare the 98-percent certainty of a major quake hitting L.A.

Take "moon phases," for example. In very rare circumstances, notes Brodsky, tidal movement can have an affect on coastline faults, as the movement of the ocean results in millions of tons weighing down or being released from oceanside faults.

Yet this phenomena is particularly inapplicable to California's faults: The state's tides are puny and its faults are are inland. It also warrants mentioning that while lunar phases move trillions of gallons around, the force they exert on land is infinitesimal. Per calculations from U.C. Berkeley astronomy professor Alex Filippenko:

The tidal forces exerted by the Moon upon a one-meter-tall vine or wine barrel are actually around 60,000 times weaker than the tidal forces emanating from a 175-pound man standing one meter away. Incidentally, if a two-pound bunny were to scurry beneath the vine or barrel, it would be exerting 750 to 1,000 times the tidal force of the Moon.

Does this mean, however, that a vast, Australian-style herd of bunnies could exert enough tidal force to trigger an earthquake? "There is a 98-percent chance that I am not going to answer that question," said Brodsky.

And that's just what happened. Wow! Amazing!

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