volcanos and earthquakes

They have been gathering data on earthquakes and for many years. Instruments are planted all over active faults and volcanoes. Has the science matured into something useful?Can they predict with any kind of accuracy.? Is there some new and exciting info they have gotten that we should know. ?
I know the instrumentation has become more accurate. So whats new.?

As much as the general public thinks scientists should know it “all” after years of research, the fact of the matter is that the earth functions in many ways on much longer time scales than we have been able to take measurements for. Without detailed data encompassing very long timescales, it’s tough to get a proper gauge of processes such that you could make predictions about future behavior.

Imagine for a moment that you were a housefly with a lifespan of six weeks. How much do you think you’d be able to figure out about the human species and social interactions from a few generations’ worth of housefly research?

So the answer is, no, eruption and earthquake prediction capabilities haven’t vastly improved over the last few decades. The ability to identify areas where activity is more likely in the coming decades has improved a lot in areas with intensive monitoring, but with very rare exceptions (such as the westward migration of large earthquake occurrences along the Anatolian fault in northern Turkey) we have no ability to predict specific events with any precision measured in timescales of less than a few decades.

In the last year or two, I read an interesting article in Scientific American about an earthquake scientist whose statistical analyses of earthquake occurrences has led to more statistically accurate predictions of upcoming quakes based on recent seismic events. Although I suppose any specific event is very much subject to ecological fallacy, she had found that after a seismic event, the probability of another event - i.e., the chance that the shock that just occurred was just a foreshock for something more to come - drops to whatever is average for the location after one hour.

IANAS (scientist) but as an eager lay consumer of natural disaster information, it seems to me that yes indeed, volcanic eruption prediction has improved tremendously in recent decades. Swarms of small earthquakes (harmonic tremors), bulging of the earth as detected by tiltmeters, and possibly other signs do give clues that an eruption is imminent. Sure, scientists can’t say “on such-and-such-a-date at this exact time, an eruption of this severity will occur.” However, they CAN predict that an eruption is rather likely within days or weeks, and take pretty educated guesses as to its severity. Think about Monserrat and Mt. St. Helens – in both cases, the devastating eruptions that have occured in recent years were considered extremely likely in the weeks and days leading up to them, and people had plenty of warning to get the hell out of the danger zone. (Contrast that with Krakatoa or Tambora – if either of those stupendous eruptions occurred now, people would not be caught by surprise as they were in the 1800s.)

This now concludes my impersonation of a person who has actual understanding of science.

What do you mean by “ecological fallacy” here?

In any case, the article you read described one scientist’s interesting hypothesis, but it’s not been proven to be useful as any sort of predictive tool. See here and here for discussions of the difficulties faced by those who want to predict seismic events.

The US Geological Survey’s earthquake faq is unfortunately a little terse, but they have this to say about probabilities and prediction:

So the bottom line is that the ability to predict earthquakes is no better now than it has ever been.

You missed listing what is considered the most successful case of volcanic disaster mitigation ever - the Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

You’re not pointing out anything different from what I said though. Pinatubo, Mount St. Helens, Soufriere Hills, were all “predicted” to be likely to erupt after some pretty damn obvious signs that something was happening, with volcanoes that were heavily monitored after those initial signs appeared. Read about the run-up to those events:

Mount St. Helens
Soufriere Hills (scroll down the page a bit)

In all these cases, there were steam explosions/small eruptions/lots of minor ground shaking for months or even years in advance of the big events. It’s not hard to make a “short-term” prediction if you have a lot of stuff happening and have the time & money to fly in extra monitoring equipment beforehand.

We have hazard maps that outline areas of heightened activity, and the high risk zones tend to get monitored more heavily when gov’t finances and interest permit (which is nowhere near as much or as often as actual scientists would like). It’s really important to point out as well that the vast majority of volcanoes and seismic hazard zones are not heavily monitored AT ALL. Can’t make useful predictions of any kind when you have insufficient data.

“a logical flaw which results from making a causal inference about an individual phenomenon or process on the basis of observations on groups.” (Source: http://www.sph.umich.edu/geomed/htmls/glossary/gloss.html)

So is this a study for the sake of the study or are practical applications likely to emerge. ?
What was the warning on Mt. St. Helens? I believe some volcanologists got killed. That would suggest bad data or they did not believe their own measurements…

Well, given that improvements to building codes and better understanding of risks in general have come out of basic research, I’d say there have been some practical applications already.

Go back and read my link in post #4. The surprise of the main event at Mount St. Helens was that a massive landslide led to a sudden loss of pressure on the side of the mountain, and allowed the eruption to blow outward as well as up.

Dave Johnston of the USGS was killed AS he was taking measurements of the bulging in the side of Mount St. Helens. I don’t know where you got your ideas from. :rolleyes:

Fieldwork in volcanology is an inherently dangerous, because not all needed information can as yet be gathered by remote instrumentation once the volcano starts to rumble. The decade from 1991-2001 was particularly bad, with 19 scientists killed in the field and more injured (serious burns and the like). Stanley Williams was one of the survivors of a single event that killed 6 scientists at once (the Galeras eruption in 1993); he’s written a book, but there’s a brief Q&A here about his experience. People like this wouldn’t do their work if they didn’t think it had greater significance beyond just basic curiosity.