Related topics

Scientists Dispute Earthquake Prediction

October 18, 1990 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Predictions of a major earthquake in the Midwest in early December are without scientific basis and could even be dangerous, a group of scientists said Thursday.

The 11 scientists reporting to the U.S. Geological Survey said there is a long-term possibility of a major earthquake along the New Madrid Fault, but there is no credibility in Iben Browning’s projection of a 50-50 chance it will happen Dec. 3.

″Such a projection, especially at the predicted 50-50 chance level, implies a level of detailed knowledge ... that simply does not exist for the New Madrid or any other fault zone in the world,″ the group said in its report for the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council.

The group released its finding at a news conference in St. Louis.

″My biggest concern is that on Dec. 4, when nothing has happened, people are going to forget about it,″ said Jerome Hauer of Indianapolis, chairman of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium.

″They are going to say, ‘We’ve dodged the bullet,’ and become complacent. We need to keep the momentum going. We need it to be constant,″ Hauer said.

The scientists who contributed to the report were brought together from universities and governmental agencies to evaluate the scientific validity of Browning’s projection.

Browning, a climatologist and business consultant based in Sandia Park, N.M., bases his prediction on the cyclical forces of tides and gravity. He has said that for 48 hours before and after Dec. 3, tidal forces will be particularly strong.

A woman who answered the telephone Thursday at Browning’s home and identified herself as his wife said he was unavailable for comment.

Browning’s claim has been widely reported, causing public anxiety throughout the region.

Some people plan to take trips and at least nine school districts in three states have canceled classes. Insurance agents have been swamped with requests for earthquake insurance and attendance at earthquake preparedness meetings has been high.

Dr. Robert Wesson, chief of the Office of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Engineering for the Geological Survey, said he wanted Thursday’s news conference to accomplish three things.

″We need to recognize that sometime in the future a major earthquake will strike the area. We have to note that there is no scientific basis for believing it will happen Dec. 3.″

The New Madrid Fault runs from Marked Tree, Ark., across southeastern Missouri to southern Illinois and produces hundreds of small quakes every year, most hardly felt. It is named for the Missouri Bootheel town of New Madrid, about 140 miles south of St. Louis.

″Browning’s correlations of earthquake activity with danger periods at times of highs in tidal forces does no better at predicting earthquakes of magnitudes greater than 6.5 than does random guessing,″ the scientists’ report said.

The scientific group also said it found no evidence that Browning had predicted last year’s major earthquake in northern California.

Wesson said he also wants people to know there are things that can be done to prepare for an earthquake, such as public education on how to prepare, developing local emergency response plans and earthquake proofing buildings.

Four quakes have been felt in the New Madrid fault zone this year: a 2.8 quake on Jan. 9, a 3.1 on Aug. 7, a 3.4 on Aug. 29, and a 4.6 on Sept. 26.

Earthquakes are measured on the Richter scale, which is a gauge of the energy released by an earthquake, as measured by the ground motion recorded on a seismograph.

In 1811-1812, a series of quakes estimated at up to 8 on the Richter scale struck the New Madrid region, causing the Mississippi River to appear to flow backward and forming Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. The tremors rang church bells in Washington, D.C., more than 850 miles away.

The Mexico City earthquake in 1985 measured 8.1. Last October’s earthquake in San Francisco measured 7.1, about 3,000 times more powerful than September’s quake of 4.6. in southeast Missouri.