Earthquakes: 'We still can't predict or forecast anything'

Earthquakes: 'We still can't predict or forecast anything'
Structures like the Coos Bay bridge are among the major infrastructure that will face risks when a subduction zone earthquake strikes the Pacific Northwest. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum, courtesy Oregon State University)

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Scientists underestimated the size of earthquakes that hit Japan in 2011 and Indonesia in 2004.

Oregon State University researchers hope to make earthquake predictions a more exact science.

That's no easy task.

"We're no better off today than we were yesterday,"

Dr. Chris Goldfinger of OSU's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences

said. "We still can't predict or forecast anything."

Goldfinger is talking about predicting

the Big One

: the massive

Cascadia Subduction Zone

earthquake many scientists say is overdue to hit the Pacific Northwest.

The OSU scientist said the quakes in Japan and Indonesia were badly underestimated because researchers used old models that don't work anymore.

Goldfinger said if they use longer seismic records, going back thousands of years, they'll stand a better chance of accuracy.

"A hopeful sign that there may be something other than complete randomness involved in earthquakes," Goldfinger said.

Goldfinger says over the past 10,000 years, there have been 19 big earthquakes that extended along most of the Cascadia Subduction Zone from southern Vancouver Island to the Oregon-California border.

That leaves the Northwest waiting for the other shoe to drop.
 
"This study doesn't change that," Goldfinger said. The chance a massive quake could hit at any moment? "They're still very high."