Twenty-three years ago I published my first book demanding that science rethink its truly absurd centuries-long "earthquake prediction is impossible!" mantra.
Even then, in 1996, tornado warnings were being issued in the Midwest, and hurricane landfalls were being forecast along the Gulf Coast.
The stunning reversal of scientific heresy concerning earthquake prediction since that time is yet another example of why naysaying has always been one of the greatest detriments to science.
This year Israel will join a growing number of seismically active nations with an EEW system (Earthquake Early Warning). Israel’s 120-station line of seismic detectors, Truah Project, runs along a 400 kilometer length of the Dead Sea Rift from Eilat, the seaport on the Red Sea, north to the Golan Heights.
Mexico, Turkey, Japan, Romania, Taiwan have such systems in place.
The Americans are at present filling in the last gaps on the EEW system for the U.S. West Coast.
EEW systems not only tread in the supposedly taboo realm of earthquake prediction, but do it infallibly, flawlessly, perfect every time, as dependable as stopwatches.
Sensors emplaced directly on well-known and imminently dangerous fault lines — the San Andreas, for example, in the U.S. — instantly detect the very first notice of any large earthquake taking place in the immediate vicinity, the P-waves (primary waves) of the oncoming temblor.
Once the P-waves have flipped the switch however, the race in on toward those cities that lie within the radius of impact. It’s a contest the earthquake must lose since seismic waves travel along the surface some three to four kilometers per second — certainly fast, the speed of an incoming ICBM missile—but far less than a snail’s pace compared to humankind’s signaling ability, namely, light-speed.
Homo sapiens will win this one every time.
So, if a very large magnitude 7.9 earthquake should take place on the San Andreas some 50 kilometers away from Ontario Airport, or the operating theaters at Cedar Sinai Medical Center, or Union Station downtown, the screaming electronic bulletin that an earthquake is definitely on the way with arrive in the command centers of those facilities, along with causing any number of millions of personal cell phones to ping an alarm as well, some fourteen seconds before the S-waves (secondary and/or sheer waves) of the earthquake arrive on the scene.
If the epicenter is further away, the warning is delivered with even more time to spare.
Fourteen seconds may not seem like much, but it’s more than enough time to wave off a passenger jet making its approach into a Southland airport, freeze the doors and wheels of Metrorail trains throughout Greater Los Angeles, and cause surgeons preparing to engage in extremely delicate operations to put the scalpels away for the moment.
And, there are tens of thousands of other terminals — including gas, electrical, water, nuclear — and millions of personal cellphones which will be receiving warnings to Angelinos seconds before the next big one strikes.
It’s turned out that wasting time, talent and effort repeating that earthquake prediction was impossible wasn’t a very intelligent option.
But, that lesson should have been learned centuries ago when scientific orthodoxy insisted that the world doesn’t spin, and declined papers on smallpox vaccines that saved whole societies, or mocked the existence of jet streams, the Van Allen radiation belt and continental drift, or chiseled into stone that an unbreakable sound "barrier" should remain forever inviolable.
Those embarrassing episodes in the worst chapters in science are now buttressed with the shameful history of earthquake warning systems as a reality only after having been declared pure nonsense for dozens of decades.
At present, NASA, the Russian Academy of Sciences, India’s Ministry of Earth Science, Japan’s Tokai Warning system, China’s State Seismological Bureau and dozens of the most esteemed scientific bodies on the planet are engaged in trying to push forward the boundaries on seismic forecasting.
Everything from satellite detection of high-energy particle bursts in the upper atmosphere to monitoring of "slow-slip" seismic events taking place 150,000 feet below the surface of the U.S. Pacific Northwest along the Cascadia Fault Zone is giving science exactly what it needs — the facts to move forward in solving the problem of people being killed unawares by great earthquakes that catch them looking the other way.
It’s 2019, Israel is inaugurating its Truah system, and the sophisticated citizenry of the U.S. and the world ought to be freed from what the scientific method five centuries ago should have already relegated to the primitive past.
Predetermined and "settled science" groupthink must never again be allowed to dominate any debate, anywhere, about anything.
That is the undisputed route to falsehood, muddled thinking, retracing of steps, and everything that science is not.
Earthquake prediction isn’t impossible; it’s a reality.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.