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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY

Earthquakes in a Box

from ScienceNOW Daily News

As a first step toward predicting earthquakes, geophysicists are using computers to simulate the behavior of the world's most studied 25 kilometers of fault, the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas fault in central California. This storied bit of fault ruptures every 20 years on average in quakes of magnitude 6.0, causing minor damage in California cattle country and fascinating seismologists.

Now, researchers report that a relatively sophisticated model of the Parkfield segment can produce quakes that bear a striking resemblance to real ones. The simulations even suggest why the only official U.S. quake forecast ever made failed to get the timing of the latest Parkfield temblor right.

The trick to getting a computer to correctly forecast the time, place, and magnitude of a coming earthquake is giving a computer model's fault enough of the real fault's physical properties. To make their simulations reasonably realistic, geophysicists Sylvain Barbot, Nadia Lapusta, and Jean-Philippe Avouac of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena constructed a fault model based on both a century's worth of seismological theory and decades of Parkfield observations.

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