Seismologists are claiming to have found one of the holy grails of disaster prevention, a signal that can be used as an early warning system for the most destructive earthquakes. Unfortunately, the warning time is less than a minute before peak impact, but the team who found it still think this may be enough to save some lives.
Professor Diego Melgar studied US databases of earthquake events. By looking at the rate of acceleration, rather than of movement, over the first 20 seconds, he was able to distinguish events that would become large enough to do serious damage from those that never subsequently grew so large. “On average, earthquakes with a larger final magnitude grow faster early on,” Melgar writes in Science Advances.
Melgar then sought to confirm his conclusions using European and Chinese records. “To me, the surprise was that the pattern was so consistent,” he said in a statement. “These databases are made [in] different ways, so it was really nice to see similar patterns across them.”