Earthquake Myths, Part One

The earthquake in Virginia yesterday made me think about earthquake myths.  It must have been really frightening in ancient days when you had no idea what was causing the Earth to shake.  I was amused to find that FEMA actually has a page of ways various cultures explained earthquakes. 

My favorite two were from West Africa and Siberia.  West Africans believed that the Earth is held up by a mountain and a giant, while the giant’s wife holds up the sky.  Earthquakes occur when the giant hugs his wife.  Siberians thought that the Earth rests on a sled driven by the God Tuli.  The sled dogs have fleas and when they stop to scratch, the Earth trembles.

Today we know that earthquakes occur when tectonic plates shift along fault lines.   There are still some persistent earthquake myths, however.  One of the most common is that either scientists or psychics can predict earthquakes.  Nope, unfortunately not true.  The most we can know is where they will likely hit (along fault lines) and how long it has been since previous quakes.   Small quakes can sometimes be an indication of a larger quake to come, but not always. 

If you predict an earthquake, you’re bound to be right sometimes, since there are approximately 1,000,000 earthquakes in the world each year according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  About one-tenth of those are large enough to be felt, an average of about 275 a day.  

I waded through a lot of information about failed earthquake predictions and have to admit the scientists don’t have a much better track record than psychics.  To be truly accurate, and helpful enough to save lives, we’d need to know the date of the quake, the location and the magnitude.  Maybe someday we’ll be able to find an accurate predictor but we’re not there yet.

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