Can earthquakes be forecast? After investing one billion dollars in a 30-year earthquake prediction programme, Japanese scientists have virtually admitted failure (Nature, Vol 358 No 6835).
A recent review of the programme by Japanese officials indicated several abnormal phenomena could not be objectively identified as quake precursors. For instance, earthquake swarms around the city of Ito in 1989 were believed to be caused by plate tectonic movement. Although there were reports of discolouration of the sea and floating dead fish, scientists were unable to predict a major submarine volcanic eruption was to take place until a few hours before it did.
Nonetheless, most Japanese believe the next major earthquake can be predicted, and researchers capitalise on this belief. The Japanese are worried that a major earthquake could bring Tokyo (and share markets across the world) crumbling down.
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