Haiti. Chile. California. China. Is there something unusual going on in the earth’s crust, or is the recent spate of major earthquakes a statistical fluke? And do we have any way of predicting where the next one will hit? This week we ask Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam, professor and researcher at the Earth Institute of Columbia University, who reveals what’s shaking in the science of seismology.
According to Dr. Lerner-Lam, scientists can’t “predict” earthquakes per se, but they can “forecast” them, and the technology is getting better all the time. So who should be worried? Well, definitely Seattle-ites—and they’re already preparing. And the infamous “Big One” that California has feared all these years is no myth: in fact, the chances that it will happen in the next few decades are “close to 1, close to unity.”
Dr. Lerner-Lam also walks viewers through the science behind the recent quakes in Haiti and Chile, explaining exactly why the former shakeup, while lesser in magnitude, was so much more devastating on the human scale than the latter. Taking one step further, he argues that tragedies of this kind should force scientists out of the research lab and into the real world, where they must “help the public understand what it is that’s happening to them” through the kind of “deeply meaningful” insights numbers alone can’t provide.