Earthquake Prediction in Italy

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The news on earthquakes was dominated today by the conviction of 7 Italian seismologists on charges of manslaughter for failing to adequately convey the risk of earthquakes during the April 6, 2009 L'Aquila earthquake sequence [1,2].  News stories characterize the reason for the conviction as failing to predict the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in which 308 persons perished. 

It is not possible at this time to generally predict earthquakes with a precise time, location or magnitude.  For example, we CANNOT at present make a statement like "there will be a magnitude 6 earthquake in XX city next tuesday".  However, it is important to note that we can forecast earthquakes, in the sense that we can compute probabilities.  This type of statement is different, being of the form "a magnitude 6 earthquake will occur within 100 miles of XX city  during the next year with 60% probability".  In fact, there has been an official earthquake forecast in California since 1988, and most seismically active countries have such forecasts.  These forecasts are necessary to set earthquake insurance rates, for building codes, and for other similar reasons.  

Our goal at Open Hazards is to improve the precision of probabilistic real-time forecasting to make the information as accurate and current as possible.  We do not pursue earthquake prediction as defined above.  The unfortunate events relating to the L'Aquila earthquake have brought attention to these problems, and perhaps something positive may yet emerge from these Italian convictions. 




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