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Could Machine Learning Be the Key to Earthquake Prediction?

Resilience Hub teaches skills that build community and sustainable landscapes

Using old tools, sustainability concepts and lots of volunteers, the Resilience Hub is remaking public and private landscapes all around Portland, transforming manicured lawns into buffets of natural foods.  A few years ago, an army of 35 Resilience Hub volunteers showed up at Jasa Porciello’s house on Munjoy Hill in Portland and went to work transforming her tiny backyard from a manicured lawn into an edible landscape. It was, she said, “like an Amish barn raising.”

Volunteers for the group operation, known as a “permablitz,” layered the topsoil, inoculating it with mushrooms to help take up the lead in the soil. They planted cherry and peach trees, mint and spinach. Right away, Porciello – a grant writer and previously unsuccessful gardener – noticed more squirrels and insects in her yard, and more birds flying in to eat the insects…

 

Could Machine Learning Be the Key to Earthquake Prediction?

earthquakes

A map of earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher between 1900 and 2013. Bigger dots represent stronger quakes, and red dots represent shallow earthquakes, green dots mid-depth, and blue dots represent earthquakes with a depth of 300 kilometers or more.

Five years ago, Paul Johnson wouldn’t have thought predicting earthquakes would ever be possible. Now, he isn’t so certain.

“I can’t say we will, but I’m much more hopeful we’re going to make a lot of progress within decades,” the Los Alamos National Laboratory seismologist says. “I’m more hopeful now than I’ve ever been.”

The main reason for that new hope is a technology Johnson started looking into about four years ago: machine learning. Many of the sounds and small movements along tectonic fault lines where earthquakes occur have long been thought to be meaningless. But machine learning—training computer algorithms to analyze large amounts of data to look for patterns or signals—suggests that some of the small seismic signals might matter after all.

Such computer models might even turn out to be key to unlocking the ability to predict earthquakes, a remote possibility that is so controversial, many seismologists refuse to even discuss it….

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