50 years ago, scientists were looking for ways to predict earthquakes

Excerpt from the October 10, 1970 issue of Science News

earthquake damage in Magna, Utah

Earthquakes, like the magnitude 5.7 tremor that damaged buildings in Magna, Utah, (pictured) in March, are still impossible to predict. But better quake risk forecasts, early warning systems and aftershock predictions can help people stay safe.

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October 10, 1970 cover

Warnings from the wellsScience News, October 10, 1970

Seismologists are studying ways to predict the occurrence of earthquakes…. One possibility … is to monitor subterranean fluid pressures.… Fluctuations in the production rates of oil, gas and water wells are often associated with earthquakes, and sometimes precede them soon enough to provide some warning.


It’s still not possible to predict when or where earthquakes will strike. But hazard models can estimate the likelihood that a quake will rock an area within a given time frame. Scientists now know that wastewater injection can trigger earthquakes, and account for those underground fluids in hazard models.

When a quake does hit, modern early warning systems can help people brace for shaking. Those systems use readouts from seismic sensors to gauge when surrounding areas will start to tremble, offering seconds to minutes of advance notice (SN: 4/4/14). The first public system in the United States started sending alerts to Californians in 2019. A rollout to other quake-prone states has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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