Predicting earthquakes (1913)

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Can earthquakes be predicted?

Concerning the forecasting of earthquakes a writer in the New York Press says: A number of years ago, a great earthquake occurred in Chile. Later, the California earthquake wrought havoc at San Francisco.

On the day after the San Francisco disaster, an eminent American geologist pointed out that the continental backbone of the three Americas, following the Andes in South America and the coast ranges in this country, was a great fault line, along which readjustment of the earth’s crust were liable to produce earthquakes. He pointed out that, there having been a slipping and readjustment in the southern section of the fault line, and then a corresponding one in the northern section, it was reasonable to presume that the middle area would have its corresponding disturbance. He declined to predict, but his analysis was widely presented as a prediction, and before many months had passed, the thing actually happened, in the exact region he had indicated the west coast of Mexico and Central America.

Predicting earthquakes has not been generally attempted, but that case presents an instance of scientific knowledge at least guessing right. Therefore especial interest must attach to the suggestion of Professor George Hallock Chadwick, who occupies the chair of geology of St Lawrence University. He points out, first, that there is an ancient line of fault through the Appalachian region, from Quebec to Alabama.

In 1663, a tremendously violent earthquake shook the upper parts of this region, and Prof Chadwick, by the same analogy that made a prediction of the Mexico shock, declares there is possibility of more shocks along the Appalachian line.

The Appalachians are a far older mountain system than the Rockies and Andes. Therefore, their area is less liable to earthquakes. But it has had widespread and destructive shocks in the past, and it is not for anybody to say that exemption for all the future is assured. Geologically, 1663 is not far in the past.

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Photo: Olema, California after the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 / Courtesy USGS

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