Predicting earthquakes 'no longer a rough science'

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Imagine the loss of life and damage to homes, infrastructure and livelihoods that could be prevented if it were possible to accurately predict when and where an major earthquake would strike.

The capacity to do just that is not just a distant scientific goal but a present-day reality, according to earthquake forecasting firm Terra Seismic.

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While this is a new area and certain limitations remain, earthquakes are physical events and can therefore be successfully predicted in advance, the firm's President, Oleg Elshin, told BNamericas.

By using satellite Big Data and monitoring pre-earthquake phenomena such as abnormalities in the atmosphere via modern satellite systems, Terra Seismic says its can identify where major earthquakes will occur up to 30 days before the event.

"Our goal is to improve already existing earthquake forecasting satellite methodologies and to establish these systems for all seismic prone countries," Elshin said.

V-shaped gap in clouds, or 'earthquake canyon', captured by satellite before a quake in the US (Credit: Terra Seismic)

The implications for insurers are huge. Predicting earthquakes in advance enables damage to be mitigated and economic losses to be reduced, generating greater efficiency in insurance markets and better pricing of risk.

Upon receiving warning of an imminent earthquake, insurers can reduce their exposure by hedging against insured losses and selling holdings in CAT bonds that are at risk.

They can also inform their clients and the local community to help them prepare for the event and limit material losses, as well as loss of life.

The firm said that, among other seismic events, in 2014 it had predicted a 7.2-magnitude event in Guerrero, Mexico and a 8.1-magnitude quake in Tarapacá, Chile.

"Our technology was successfully tested for the 2004-15 period and our systems detected around 90% of important quakes over the last decade. Major quakes are becoming forecastable, this is a new era and a novel reality", said Elshin.