What can we predict, exactly?
According to my calculations, the 6th grade means students are around 11-12 years old. If so, then the Rising Generation is full of people a lot smarter than I was at that age. The question below from Ask-a-Geologist is just one of many like it:
Q: Dear Geologist,
Our name is Arianah and Cray and we are sixth grade students at Preston Middle School in fort Collins, Colorado. We are currently learning about how the Earth’s surface changes over time. We are curious about earthquakes. We have a couple questions for you. Is there a common time when earthquakes happen during the day? Also, why did you become a geologist?
Yours sincerely, Arianah and Cray 😀
A: 1. Earthquakes are essentially random. We understand why they happen, we understand where they happen, but we do NOT understand WHEN they will happen. There are always aftershocks following a main event, of course, but the main event cannot be predicted. Extensive research has shown that there is no correlation between earthquakes and certain times of the day or external * events – for instance there is no correlation with either the location of the Sun, or of the Moon, or with tides (alignments of celestial bodies, which cause neap tides or spring tides, is called syzygy). Some of the brightest minds on this planet have been searching for more than a half century for some evidence that main event earthquakes can be predicted, but without success. They can be forecast #, but not predicted.
2. I was a solid-state physicist with a masters degree, and realized that if I didn’t do something drastic, I would be stuck inside a laboratory all my life with radioactive sources and high-pressure cells. This was brought very much to my attention one day when I had a high-pressure cell blow out and spew Cobalt-60 all over the inside of our lab, and had to call in a special Spill Team. Also, by this time physics as a profession was drifting into a dead end with string theory and meta-philosophy about the un-testable multiverse, and I saw relatively little value to humanity to spending billions of dollars to see if another exotic particle existed. I checked out break-offs of physics, including astrophysics, hydro-geophysics, weather physics, and geophysics, and found the last one to be very exciting. It also got me out into exotic places, like the Venezuelan jungle, the southeastern Alaska wilderness, inside an erupting volcano in Kamchatka, the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, etc. Geoscience gives me amazing opportunities to visit these places and many more. My wife and five kids came with me to many of them – and all ended up being multilingual.
But even more interesting to me is the opportunity to be a detective – to be the first to discover something beneath the ground or the seafloor. I was the first to say in detail where the groundwater lies beneath the huge San Pedro Basin in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, a host to one of four major migratory bird flyways, and a marine geophysical technology I developed was the first to map where titanium sands lay hidden beneath the seafloor off the coast of South Africa. That is ever so cool.
* It has been shown that if you inject fluids into certain formations (e.g., deep sediments northeast of Denver, CO), you can trigger swarms of micro-earthquakes. Basically this is the ground shuddering as it tries to equilibrate and adjust itself to a slightly new stress regime. However these sorts of events are so small that they are almost never felt.They really are not earthquakes as the general public understands earthquakes.
# A forecast is not a prediction: a forecast means there is an X percent chance that there will be a magnitude Y event on the Z fault zone in northern California within the next 30 years. This is very, very different from saying that there will be a Magnitude Y event at Z location on X day – that would be a prediction. Science can’t do that.