The residents of Parkfield, in California, live with the daily knowledge that their town is overdue for a large earthquake - but today an American researcher reports that, for the first time, science may be able to warn people in advance.
Small movements in the earth's crust known as "creep events" may predict earthquakes, according to Clifford Thurber, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin. The US Geological Survey has saturated the sector of the San Andreas fault near Parkfield with measuring instruments for more than a decade and Dr Thurber now believes that he could predict the next moderately large earthquake to hit the region.
Writing in the scientific journal Nature, Thurber said the monitors measure how the earth's crust on either side of the fault was moving just before moderate quakes."
Of five predictions based on the occurrence of creep events between October 1995 and mid-January 1996, four were fulfilled; there were also two "misses" (earthquakes not preceded by a creep event).
Thurber said his findings, if confirmed, could provide a way for predicting quakes.