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Brussels, June 24, 1999

European researchers successfully forecast an important earthquake

Keywords: Earthquakes, Safety, Environmental Protection

The EU-funded PRENLAB project has achieved a result which represents a real scientific challenge: successfully predicting a forthcoming earthquake. On 27 and 29 October 1998, the University of Edinburgh warned the Icelandic authorities that there would be either an unspecified large earthquake "soon". On 10 November, a final warning was issued that there would be an earthquake of magnitude 5 soon or, if stress kept increasing, a magnitude 6 within two months. Three days later, a magnitude 5 earthquake was recorded in Iceland as forecast within 2 km of the station where the observations were made.

The PRENLAB project will be presented at the second EU-Japan "Destructive earthquakes: understanding crustal processes" workshop on seismic risk which was opened today in Reykjavik, Iceland by the Minister for the Environment Mrs Siv Fridleifsdottir, Dr Anver Ghazi, European Commission and Mr Yohta Kumaki, Science and Technology Agency, Tokyo1 .

Earthquakes are by far the most deadly natural disasters in the world. Since 1975, they have killed over 340,000 people. Since the beginning of this century, they have caused an average of 20,000 deaths each year. Unfortunately, until recently, there was no reliable scientific technique for forecasting forthcoming earthquakes.

Using Iceland as a natural geophysical laboratory2, the PRENLAB3 project has developed a new technique which has shown success in forecasting the time and magnitude of future earthquakes - although not their precise location.

The technique is based on the measurement of the relative retardation of seismic waves which changes during the period prior to an earthquake.

Because the technique requires the installation of an appropriate array of seismometers, only a few predictions have been made so far. All of these proved to be accurate, the forecast on 13 November being the most spectacular one.

This promising research will be presented at a workshop opening today in Reykjavik, which will be attended by 17 scientists from 11 EU countries4, as well as by 9 Japanese scientists. The scientific objective of the workshop is to present current progress on where, how and when destructive earthquakes will strike, and how this knowledge can be exploited to mitigate seismic risk.

The workshop aims to further strengthen cooperation between the EU and Japan in earthquake research. The state-of-the art in Japan and Europe will be presented, and participants will identify areas and means for future EU-Japan cooperation in the field of seismic risk.

For further information, please contact:

Marie Yeroyanni
Scientific officer, DG XII-D - Environment Programme
Fax : +32-2-295.82.20

Michel Claessens
Communication Unit, DG XII
Fax : +32-2-295.82.20

1 Anver Ghazi is Head of the Unit "Biodiversity and Global Change and Natural Hazards" in DG XII and Mr Yohta Kumaki is Director for Planning of Earthquake research, Earthquake Research Division, Science and Technology Agency, Tokyo. Top

2 Iceland is an excellent test area for earthquake prediction research: earthquake zones and shallow sources are well-defined and scientists have a extensive knowledge of its geology and geophysics. Top

3 Earthquake-Prediction Research in a Natural Laboratory. Top

4 From Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, United Kingdom, Iceland. Top

See also: The threat of natural disasters

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